Fishlake Meadows car park now open!

We are pleased to announce that the car park for Fishlake Meadows nature reserve is now open! The opening times are 8am-6pm year round. There may be times when we have to close the car park at short notice for management works. I will strive to put notices up and issue information on social media and the blog if such closures are going to be happening.

car park sign photo 1

The car park is in the new Oxlease Meadow development next to Fishlake Meadows nature reserve. After turning in the new Oxlease Meadow development, take the first left and the car park is at the end of that road. There is more information here on the HIWWT website.

If you would be interested in helping with the locking and unlocking of the car park, please get in touch with me at jo.armson@hiwwt.org.uk.

 

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Work parties, waxwings and where’s that otter?

I’ve had a busy week and a half back at work after the Christmas break. I started the year with meeting one of our ecology team to survey some of the trees at Fishlake Meadows for bats. It was interesting getting to see some of their different gadgets in action, including an endoscope camera. This allows the ecologists to check inside small nooks and crannies to see if there are any bats or signs that bats have been in there.

On the 4th I managed to go and see the waxwings in Totton. It was great to see them, it’s been about 6 years since I last saw any. They weren’t at all bothered about the crowd of people that came to see them, which was about 50 strong! Waxwings first arrive along the East coast with Scotland and the North getting the higher numbers. They then spread South and West in the search of their favourite food, berries. Amenity planting around car parks draw them in as they often have lots of trees with berries on.

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The 6th of January was the first work party of the year at Fishlake Meadows, and thanks to a dry festive period we were able to get back to scrub cutting in the reedbed. We are working to clear a thick block of scrub over a few years. This will hopefully allow the reedbed to extend to the cleared areas, which has already begun to happen in the sections cleared last year. This work also has the added bonus of improving views across the reserve from the canal footpath.

After the work party I took the chance to have a good walk around the reserve to see what was about. I had a pretty successful walk, seeing a few pintail and teal from the screens, whilst there I also heard an otter bark, followed by a splosh in the ditch, hopefully I will see one soon! Walking back along the permissive path I spotted a marsh harrier circling high over the body of water nearest the Fishlake Meadows road. Near the gate on the permissive path I stopped to get a look at a kestrel on the pylons, as I scanned up I noticed there was a kingfisher showing well at the edge of the small pool. There have been quite a few sightings of them recently.

kingfisher fishlake

Kingfisher – not the best photo, taken on my phone through binoculars.

Just before leaving the starlings began gathering and murmurating in pretty good numbers. On the whole it was quite a relaxed murmuration as no peregrine appeared to give chase. Its likely that the starlings will continue to gather and murmurate at Fishlake into February. A good place to watch from is the platforms along the canal path or near the screens. starlings 6 (6th jan)starlings 7 (6th jan)

It’s Christmas!

This has been a lovely last week at work before finishing for Christmas. There have been some good breaks in the rain to be able to get out and see Fishlake Meadows and Blashford Lakes. It even stayed mainly dry for the Fishlake Meadows work party on Wednesday which doesn’t usually happen! However, due to the heavy rain, we still haven’t been able to get back to the scrub cutting near the canal. Instead we tackled some of the scrub on the canal bank itself. This is to improve views across the reedbed and fens from the elevated barge canal path, and to keep the banks from getting too overgrown. The material cut was again used to make some dead hedges. At lunch time we enjoyed a treat of mince pies to get us in the Christmas spirit.

Work party 21.12.18 before

Just as we were getting started.

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Once we had finished the view was much more open, and easy to see across the meadows.

On Thursday I was at Blashford for a Christmas treat work party, where we cooked some jacket potatoes on a fire and had them along with some lovely home made mince pies, a very nice way to spend the final work party before Christmas. After the work party I headed to Ivy North hide with the hope of catching another glimpse of the bittern… Fortunately I was very lucky and got a very good view of it, fully emerging from the reeds in to a little bit of an opening for a couple of minutes.

Today I had a walk around Fishlake Meadows to get some photos from around the reserve and to see how it was looking. There wasn’t a huge amount to see, but there was a lot of lovely noise, amongst the usual water rails and cetti’s warbler, as I was leaving I could hear a good number of teal whistling away.

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View from the road, lots of gulls!

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View from the 2nd platform along the canal.

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View from the left hand screen at the bottom of the permissive path.

I would like to say a huge thank you to the Fishlake Meadows volunteers! In the last year the wardens have clocked up 548 hours (starting in April) and the work party volunteers have given 284 hours from October until the work party on Wednesday! Volunteers have also managed to carry out 12 butterfly transects, a habitat condition assessment and fixed point photography. I hope they all have a wonderful Christmas and New Year and rest up ready for more in 2019!

Members walk 17th December

On Monday I led a walk for members at Fishlake Meadows, with the hope of catching a starling murmuration at the end of the walk. It was quite a grey afternoon, but very still so conditions were on our side for seeing a good show. Walking along the canal we spotted a grey heron, swans on distant lakes and heard several cetti’s warblers. We stopped to enjoy views from the new platforms and to look at Ashley Meadow. Making use of the pylons that run through Fishlake Meadows were a kestrel and a buzzard. Just before turning down the new permissive path part of the group got a good view of a goldcrest.

The permissive path is currently a bit flooded in a couple of places due to the heavy rain. Its a couple of inches deep in parts now, so if your walking boots aren’t that waterproof, wellies would be a good idea. The path surface is staying solid though. We got to the screens and heard water rails and cetti’s warblers and saw a few coot on the water. As we were at the screen we saw a lovely murmuration of starlings, not very many, but some lovely movements.

We headed back to the canal path in the hope of getting a better view of the murmuration, as we walked more starlings were flying overhead towards the larger group. Unfortunately they seemed to be going straight in to roost and not murmurating, but at least we got a good view from the screens.

Nearly back to the car park we caught a glimpse of a marsh harrier in the distance, the light was dropping so it wasn’t the clearest view, but a good spot all the same. We made it back to the car park just before it got completely dark, all in all it was a very successful walk and the members were very happy with what they had seen. A big thank you to all of our members, your support is very valuable to us.

 

December wildlife

In the last few weeks I have been busy doing a variety of scrub cutting and tree felling at Fishlake Meadows and Blashford Lakes, trying to make the most of the breaks in the rain! In between the rain I have seen quite a few plants in flower! It’s lovely to still see some colour around, but is a sign that the weather has been a bit on the warm side. I saw this red dead nettle in flower at Fishlake Meadows and several common storksbill in flower at Blashford Lakes. Common storksbill often has 2 petals which are larger than the others and sometimes have black spots at the base. Its one of the food plants of the brown argus butterfly caterpillar.

REd dead nettle

Red dead nettle in flower at Fishlake Meadows

Storksbill blashford dec

Common storksbill in flower at Blashford, 2 top petals showing the darker spots

At Fishlake Meadows on the 5th December was another work party. This time we were thinning scrub through the middle of Ashley Meadow and cutting willow branches back that were getting near to the fence. On the whole we mainly cleared the more mature scrub, and the younger saplings were left. This way we can maintain some scrub through the meadow without their being an increase. Each year we will review how much scrub there is and cut any we think is needed. Thank you to Simon and his Lower Test volunteer team, also the 2 new forest apprentices for their help scrub cutting in Ashley Meadow.

While cutting some of the willow branches at the edge of Ashley Meadow we spotted this lovely drinker moth caterpillar. They hibernate when part grown, start feeding again in spring and are then fully grown by June. The caterpillars feed mainly at night, resting low on vegetation in the day. They feed on coarse grasses such as cock’s-foot, reed canary grass and common reed, favouring damp habitats.

drinker moth caterpillar dec

Drinker moth caterpillar

Back at Blashford Lakes and while we were clearing an area of scrub and non native grey alder we noticed that there were quite a few common puffball fungi on the woodland floor. They are sometimes called the warted puffball because they are covered in lots of little bumps. Once they have matured a small hole opens up at the top of the ball to release the large number of spores inside, released in a visible puff if it’s knocked.

stalk puffballs blashford

Common puffball

On some of the willow that was pulled out from the area was a vast number of giant willow aphids. I thought I would do some reading in to them to learn about them, and found that they have a very interesting lifecycle. They are anholocyclic which means there are no males, and the females reproduce without being fertilised, so are parthenogenetic. They typically group together in large colonies as we saw, with all different sizes present as they continue to reproduce through the winter.

Aphids dec

Cluster of giant willow aphids

There is lots of wildlife to see and learn about all year round, so I’m pleased to have seen so much in the last couple of weeks. On the run up to Christmas I will be keeping an eye out for even more.

Fencing, banks, paths, scrub & birds!

There has been a lot more happening around Fishlake Meadows recently. Some new chestnut paling fencing has gone in at the southern end of the canal path. This has been put in to smarten up the first section that many people who visit the nature reserve see. It gives the beginning of the path a much more cared for look I think.

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Next to the car park a small section of path has been laid to make the pedestrian access better from the new housing development. Before the access was just an area of grass that was becoming muddy and worn as people walked over it, this new section of path will protect the surrounding grass and shouldn’t get muddy through the winter. Along the canal bank, restoration work has been started in areas where the bank has become eroded.

Work parties have continued with scrub cutting near the canal and have made wonderful progress. The views through to the water from the canal are much better now. In the areas that were cut last year, the reeds are growing well, increasing the size of the reedbed. The areas cleared this year should develop in the same way.

Before scrub cutting on 4th Nov and after scrub cutting 21st Nov

Comparison of before the work party on the 4th November and the end of the work party on the 21st November.

You may notice that the stumps have been left high rather than cut low to the ground. This is something that Bob Chapman had started doing at Blashford Lakes, and found that instead of getting regrowth, the stumps died off. Therefore we’re trialling the same approach at Fishlake Meadows. It may not work in the same way it did at Blashford Lakes, but we feel it’s worth a shot.

Beofre and after 21.11.18

Photo from the start of the work party on the 21st November and when we had finished. Stumps left high, which will hopefully lead to less regrowth as at Blashford.

Wildlife at Fishlake Meadows has been wonderful in the last few weeks. There have regularly been 2 great white egrets around (possibly 3), goldeneye, pintail, kingfisher, marsh harrier and lots of water rail squealing away. The starlings are gathering in higher and higher numbers which is attracting a peregrine falcon regularly. With the weather staying colder we could start to see even more interesting wildlife putting in an appearance.

Heron in tree

Grey heron perched at the top of a dead tree.

 

Scrub cutting, dragging & dead hedging

Since the 24th October there have been 2 more work parties at Fishlake Meadows, both of which have seen a lot of rain! On 4th November, the first Sunday work party, we made a start on clearing another block of the mature willow scrub that runs parallel to the Barge Canal. Clearing more of this scrub has several benefits; it creates better views across the nature reserve from the Barge Canal, it continues the programme of rotational scrub cutting and should allow the reeds to expand and grow right through the area that’s opened up.

Before scrub cutting on 4th Nov and after scrub cutting on 7th Nov

Top photo showing before scrub cutting started on the 4th November and the bottom showing a much thinner block of scrub at the end of the work party on the 7th November.

Seven volunteers came along to the work party on the 4th November, and made a great start on cutting the willow, dragging it out of the knee deep muddy water, and stacking it up ready for dead hedging. They worked incredibly hard, managing to drag all of the material cut that day to near where the new bit of dead hedging was going.

Work party 7.11.18 dead hedge

Volunteers making a start on the dead hedge from the huge pile of cut willow.

On the 7th November, with a few more people and a huge pile of cut willow, half the group made a start on dead hedging, while the other half continued cutting and dragging. Again, everyone worked very hard and managed to get all of the material already cut in to a dead hedge.

Work party 7.11.18 brash pile before

The pile of willow at the start of the day, the volunteers starting to cut up the brash for the dead hedge.

Work party 7.11.18 brash pile and dead hedge after

After! All the willow has been cut up and made in to a very neat dead hedge.

The dead hedges create wonderful habitat for birds and invertebrates. The dead hedges that we built last year frequently have robins, blackcaps and great tits foraging in them. They are built by intertwining cut material to create a dense pile of brash. As the brash begins to dry out and die, the hedge will sink down, allowing more brash to simply be added to it the following year. A big thank you to all the volunteers who have been to work parties so far this year.

First Fishlake winter work party 2018

On Wednesday 24th October we had our first work party of the winter at Fishlake Meadows. It was a wonderful sunny day and incredibly mild, so not very wintery at all! Eleven volunteers came out to give their time helping with management of Fishlake Meadows. They were all very excited to be helping out to be getting the work parties started for the winter.

View from right viewing screen

Lovely sunny day for scrub cutting

The task for the day was to improve the views at the viewing screens which are at the end of the newly laid and opened permissive path, and also to do some scrub cutting along the new permissive path. The wonderful volunteers managed to clear the willows from in front of the screen overlooking the reeds (photo of the view above). This has created a lovely view in to the reedbed and should allow the chance to see reed warbler, sedge warbler and reed bunting up close. Photos below show how the screens looked before and after, it turned out to be an awful lot of willow that needed to be cleared.

Reed and willow scrub screen

Right hand screen before scrub cutting

Willow cleared from right hand screen oct 18

Right hand screen now cleared

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In front of the screen overlooking the water we were able to cut the willow sapling and the reeds, this has made the view of the water much clearer and wider. Sightings from this screen include gadwall, kingfisher, great white egret, hobby and teal.

View from left viewing screen

Left hand screen with willow sapling blocking the view

Reeds cleared from left hand screen oct 18

Left hand screen once reeds and willow cut down

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We then moved on to thinning out some of the scrub along the permissive path. This allowed us to open up some views of the ponds along the path too. The scrub that was cut was used to build some dead hedges. As these rot down they create wonderful habitat for birds and invertebrates. The volunteers were very pleased with the results of their hard work and are looking forward to the next work parties.

volunteers scrub cutting oct 18

Volunteers working hard together to cut willow

scrub cutting along permissive path Oct 18

Pond now visible from the path between the willow scrub

If you would like to get involved with the work parties or other volunteering at Fishlake Meadows, please get in touch with me at jo.armson@hiwwt.org.uk.

30 Days Wild – week 3

This week has been very busy strimming paths and pulling ragwort, but I’ve managed to still devote some time to trying out my new sweep net and seeing what’s out and about at Fishlake Meadows and Blashford Lakes.

Day 15: Delivering some more butterfly transect training at Fishlake Meadows, despite the sunny and warm weather we unfortunately didn’t see many butterflies at all. It did seem there was a bit of a quiet period between the early butterflies finishing and the later ones hadn’t quite made it out yet. Luckily, now there are lots of butterflies on the wing again. After the training I tried out the new sweep net and caught lots of different interesting insects, including this yellow and black longhorn beetle, which is also its name!

Yellow and black longhorn beetle

yellow and black longhorn beetle

Day 16 & 17: I was off over the weekend and was particularly busy so called upon a couple of sightings from Blashford Lakes when I was there on the 14th. Firstly this dense patch of biting stonecrop with its lovely star shaped flowers. It also has a very strong peppery taste, there seems to be a lot of it about at Blashford at the moment. At the end of the day I joined Bob to have a look through the moth trap and was treated to many hawk-moths, all looking beautiful. Here is just one of the pictures I took, an elephant hawk-moth and an eyed hawk-moth.

Day 18: I took the time to have a look around my garden after work and was pleased to see that I finally had a poppy growing through after seeing so man across the road for such a long time. I also noticed some selfheal coming in to flower that I don’t think I had seen in the garden last year.

Day 19: I was at Blashford Lakes again, pulling ragwort along the shore of Ibsley Lake. It was a very hot and humid day so the volunteers and I made sure to take it slowly and spent plenty of time admiring the insects and flowers around us. There also seemed to be a bit of a mass emergence of marbled white butterflies, they are such attractive butterflies. I was only able to get 1 photo that was particularly poor, but the ox-eye daisies look lovely. Hope you can spot the marbled white!

Marbled white on oxeye daisy

marbled white butterfly on ox-eye daisy.

Day 20: Today I was at Fishlake Meadows having a walk around with past colleagues from my previous job at Hampshire County Council. We saw lots of sedge warblers, reed buntings and even a female cuckoo who probably won’t be around much longer. I took the chance to take a photo of some yellow loosestrife that poses nicely at the side of the East/West path. Whilst pausing to look at it we managed to see a male and female loosestrife bee.

Yellow loosestrife

yellow loosestrife

Day 21: A really hot sunny day at Blashford Lakes with the Thursday volunteers, we were raking up grass that Bob had cut earlier in the week. As we worked along the paths I saw lots of different wild flowers, so decided to highlight some of the different ones there. In order of the photos below; there was St John’s Wort, I have to confess I didn’t investigate it closely enough to see what species it was. There was also agrimony, with its delicate yellow flowers arranged in a spike. Followed by another yellow flowering plant with jazzy purple hairs on the stamens, dark mullein is another beautiful plant. Finally a mallow with its candy floss pink flowers and delicate cut leaves, I’m fairly sure this is a musk mallow.

Next week (this week really as I’m a bit late with this blog) I will be getting Fishlake Meadows ready for cows coming on, with the volunteers at Blashford and In an all staff meeting. I then have a day off, with the last 2 days of the month on holiday in the Forest of Dean. I’m sure I will still find lots of wild things to report back on.

 

30 Days Wild – Week 2

This week I have enjoyed the warm weather and been able to have a really thorough look in the different meadows of Fishlake Meadows…here’s some of the things I’ve been up to and seen this week.

Day 8: A warm and muggy Friday, wasn’t the most ideal weather for strimming the barge canal path, nor was the vast amount of grass pollen, however the path looked much better afterwards and I did see a wonderful and very fresh scarlet tiger moth. There have been a lot emerging over the last week and I was able to get a photo of one on Sunday that still needed to stretch its wings fully. Females favour laying their eggs on nettles and comfrey, there is a lot of comfrey at Fishlake Meadows which is likely why there are lots emerging at the moment.

Day 9: I had a day off so I spent some time in my garden, and noticed that a bee had emerged from one of the canes in my bug hotel. All the tubes that have been used are by red mason bees, as the ends are sealed with mud. You can just about see a small pile of yellow pollen in the circled tube, this has been left by the female when she laid the egg as food for when the young hatches. The female is able to decide what sex the egg will be as she lays the eggs, males usually hatch first so male eggs will be at the front of the tube and females towards the back. Each tube is likely to hold several eggs, all with some pollen to eat when they hatch, the female then puts a mud divider in and lays another egg with pollen until each tube is full and finished with a final mud seal.

Red mason bee emerged

Red mason bee emerged from tube

Day 10: I was back at Fishlake Meadows with volunteers doing some butterfly and dragonfly transect training, despite it being quite warm we didn’t see any butterflies. We still saw lots of exciting things, including a “woolly bear” caterpillar of the garden tiger moth. Plus a huge number of peacock butterfly caterpillars, on their food plant the common nettle. When the caterpillars hatch out, they spin a silk web and feed on nettles, growing and moving together. When they are nearly fully grown they begin to spread over a wider area.

 

 

Day 11: I stuck with the lepidoptera theme with a spot of this beautiful chrysalis at the edge of the Barge Canal path. After showing Bob the photo, he quickly identified it as a comma butterfly chrysalis. It looks very much like a shrivelled up dying leaf, but with a closer look it’s very beautiful and holds the white markings that give the adult butterfly its comma name. It was a very hot day and we had a walk for HIWWT members, luckily managing to get some shade as we went.

Comma butterfly chrysalis

Comma butterfly chrysalis

Day 12: With help from a couple of volunteers I carried out a habitat assessment of some of the different meadow areas of Fishlake Meadows. The idea of these surveys are for us to keep an eye on how the habitat changes over time, therefore we record desirable and undesirable species, amount of tree and scrub cover, bare ground and leaf litter cover. It was an ideal day for this, being much cooler than yesterday, but still bright and sunny. As we surveyed Ashley Meadow, we came across this beautiful, double headed southern marsh orchid. If you look carefully at the orchid on the left, you can see that the 2 flower spikes are coming from the same stem.

Day 13: A wonderful, male swollen thighed beetle sitting very nicely on a bindweed flower, this makes a great background to show off the colour and form of the beetle. The male displays very well where it got its name from…it’s bulbous thighs. The females and males are easily told apart as the female doesn’t have the swollen thighs. Other names for the swollen thighed beetle are thick-legged flower beetle and false oil beetle.

Swollen thighed beetle

Male swollen thighed beetle

Day 14: I was at Blashford Lakes helping with the Tuesday volunteer group, we were raking up bramble and grass which Bob had cut earlier in the week. Whilst having a pause and leaning on my fork, I saw this very freshly emerged emperor dragonfly. It is Britain’s bulkiest dragonfly and will often come and inspect you whilst patrolling its territory. They are quite often seen eating on the wing and even in flight their beautiful colours can be picked out, green on the thorax of both sexes, males have a blue abdomen and females green.

Next week the weather looks pretty good so I will be getting out as much as possible. In fact a new sweep net has arrived for surveying at Fishlake, so I will spend some time seeing what I can find with that.