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.

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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.

 

 

30 Days Wild – week 1

Like Bob, I am taking part in 30 days wild, I’m doing a tweet a day on the HIWWT Conservation profile. If you’re a twitter user why not follow us to see all the different things happening across the reserves. I also plan to do a weekly summary as a blog each week.

So, after 7 days of 30 days wild, what have I seen and done so far?

Day 1: A visit from The Royal Wildlife Trusts, plus HIWWT CEO Debbie Tann and Chairman David Jordan to Fishlake Meadows. We took a gentle stroll around the reserve and enjoyed lots of wildlife, the main thing that caught my eye were the array of grasses and how beautiful they looked in flower. Grasses are often overlooked and forgotten about and these looked so lovely, I was happy to be able to highlight them.

Day 2: I was away in Nottingham over the weekend, but had seen so many things over the few days before I tweeted about the wonderful southern marsh orchids in flower in Ashley Meadow at Fishlake Meadows. Despite the sward height getting higher and higher, the orchids are hanging on well, in fact the height of the grasses is pushing the orchids to get very tall! The grazing that will take place in Ashley Meadow will help to reduce the sward height and give the orchids a bit more breathing space.

Southern marsh orchid - Ashley Meadow

Southern marsh orchid – Ashley Meadow

Day 3: Still away, but a good time to use this sighting of a drinker moth caterpillar. Named so because the caterpillars like to drink drops of dew. Grasses and reeds form the caterpillars diet, which explains why it was found in the grassy edges of the barge canal path.

Drinker moth caterpillar

Drinker moth caterpillar – Fishlake Meadows

Day 4: I arrived back in Basingstoke and was very pleased to see that the grassy verge opposite my house had been mown, but the patch of poppies had been left untouched. This is a simple way for local authorities to keep things tidy for those that want tidiness, but maintain a great source of pollen. In fact I am quite envious of this patch as I had poppy in my front garden last summer and in spite of much turning of the soil, haven’t managed to get it to grow again this summer.

Poppies left in basingstoke

Poppies in Basingstoke

Day 5: Involved much wandering through the undergrowth with the Tuesday Blashford Lakes volunteers looking for Himalayan balsam and pink purslane to pull. In between the pulling I saw this lovely red-eyed damselfly who behaved very nicely for me and let me take its photo. It probably helped that it was quite early in the day and quite cool.

 

Red eyed damselfly blashford

red-eyed damselfly – Blashford Lakes

Day 6: Was a work party at Fishlake Meadows, cutting back vegetation along the barge canal path. 12 volunteers came along to help cut back nettles, brambles and branches to keep the path open. Vegetation has been growing rapidly this year and has been quite a challenge to keep up with. It was a very warm day, which made for very hard work when not in the shady areas, a big thank you to all the volunteers.

Fishlake volunteers cutting path back

Fishlake Meadows volunteers cutting vegetation back from the path.

Day 7: The start of training volunteers in butterfly, dragonfly and damselfly identification and how to carry out transects. The weather wasn’t on our side so I focused on the methodology of the transects. This year I will focus on deciding where different sections of the transect will be, with a view to a transect being done each week of the season next year. Despite the weather we saw several damselflies and demoiselles, including this male banded demoiselle.

Banded demoiselle

Male banded demoiselle – Fishlake Meadows

Next week I will continue to do a tweet a day, reporting on whatever I come across. In the diary are walks, flower surveys, volunteers and more butterfly and dragonfly transect training.

 

Non native, Invasive plants

This is the time of year that we turn at least some of our attention to checking for and removing any non native, invasive plants. Wetland sites in particular are vulnerable to these as they can arrive at our nature reserves from neighbouring land up-stream. Therefore eradicating these plants requires a landscape approach and cooperation from multiple landowners.

One of the most common species to cause a problem is Himalayan balsam, once it arrives it spreads very effectively and quickly. Fortunately it can be reasonably easy to control, the plants are easily pulled up with a gentle tug low down the stem. The plants can then be crushed by hand and hung up in a tree off the ground or put on to dry ground. It’s essential this is done before they go to seed. The seed pods fire dozens of seeds from a single pod up to 7m. These then float downstream and colonise somewhere else, or add to the problem nearby. The similar plant orange balsam is also non native and invasive, but generally causes less of a problem than Himalayan balsam.

RS6614_IMG_1215

Himalayan balsam by Lianne de Mello

Other non native invasive plants of concern are Pink purslane which is generally less aggressively invasive than balsam, but non the less a cause for concern, and Japanese knotweed. Japanese knotweed is difficult to eradicate and can spread very quickly, one of the best methods of control is to inject glyphosate in to the stem of the plant.

RS5322_pink-purslane

Pink purslane by Bob Chapman

You could help us to control the spread of these non native, invasive plants by letting us know if you see any on our nature reserves. At Blashford, the problem areas are known, but Himalayan Balsam and pink purslane could still spread further. At Fishlake Meadows the less problematic orange balsam has been seen, but it’s possible that Himalayan balsam, pink purslane or Japanese knotweed are also there. Again please let us know if you see any so we can get it under control quickly.

Walks, wildflowers, weather and much more

The last week and a half has been very busy with guided walks at Fishlake Meadows. This has been a great way to spend lots of time seeing the different wildlife that’s starting to show this time of year. Those that came along to the different guided walks were not disappointed, the wildlife of Fishlake Meadows put on a good show each time. There are 3 hobbies seen regularly, enjoying feeding on damselflies and dragonflies, we were also treated to a male cuckoo calling away each time, and even saw him once or twice. On the last guided walk on Monday we didn’t make it back in quite enough time to avoid the downpour, the storm did make for some fantastic looking skies.

dark-clouds-of-fishlake-may-2018.jpg

Stormy skies over Fishlake Meadows

At Blashford Lakes and Fishlake Meadows more and more flowers are coming out, it’s lovely to see all the different colours. At Blashford lots of oxeye daisies and vetches have come in to flower. Fishlake is full of colour thanks to yellow flag iris’ flowering along the ditches and around the pools of water. Ashley Meadow to the north of the site has lots of comfrey, buttercup and some southern marsh orchids in flower.

Oxeye daisy Blashford

Oxeye daisy in flower at Blashford Lakes

Early marsh orchid Ashley Meadow1

Southern marsh orchid at Fishlake Meadows

 

On a quick walk along the Barge Canal path at Fishlake Meadows yesterday I had the chance to get more of a look at the insects that were flying around. There are now many dragonflies, damselflies and demoiselles enjoying the sunny sections of the canal where most of the in channel vegetation is. I was able to get a good look at a broad bodied chaser through binoculars, and a very brief glance of another dragonfly, but not enough to identify it. Luckily the damselflies were being much more cooperative, I was able to get a photo of a large red damselfly and a pair of mating azure damselfly.

Large red damselfly fishlake

Large red damselfly

 

Azure blue damselflies mating1

Azure damselflies mating

 

I also saw a speckled wood butterfly,  they are often overlooked, but I think they are very attractive. You can typically spot them in woodland or where there is some tree cover, where they will settle in a small sunny spot where there is a gap in the canopy. The yellow markings on their wings mimic dappled sunlight breaking through. My final sighting of note, was my first cinnabar moth of the year, hard to miss their striking bright pink and black colours. This one came out of the moth trap at Blashford Lakes this morning, so they are clearly beginning to emerge everywhere.

Speckled wood Fishlake

Speckled wood resting in the sunlight at Fishlake Meadows

Cinnabar moth

Cinnabar and sharp-angled peacock moth in trap at Blashford Lakes

Birds a plenty!

The last week or so has seen many new arrivals to Fishlake Meadows. It seems that the better weather is encouraging lots of activity, although today is very chilly! Sedge Warblers have arrived in huge numbers and can be heard clearly from the barge canal path. Their song is quite distinctive, and energetic with varied mix of musical notes, it is very similar to the reed warbler who have also arrive in the last week. The reed warbler song is less energetic and a bit slower paced.

Sedge Warbler warbling

Sedge Warbler by James West

Lindisfarne

Reed Warbler by David Foker

Friday 20th April was the first day I saw large red damselflies emerging, and there seemed to be a huge numbers of them. On Sunday I had the first report of hobbies having arrived, 3 were spotted and have been seen regularly since. They have been busy feeding on damselflies and other large insects on the wing.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Large red damselfly by Ed Merritt

RS1235_hobby in flight David Foker

Hobby by David Foker

A cuckoo has been heard regularly to the western end of the east/west path that crosses the middle of the site. Garden warbler and common whitethroat have also arrived in the last week or so. All these new arrivals are absolutely wonderful and are fabulous to hear singing away. It’s a true pleasure for me to see the different seasons go by on a new nature reserve and seeing what changes that brings.

RS1235_hobby in flight David Foker

Volunteer Wardens

This week I have been busy meeting volunteers who are going to be wardens at Fishlake Meadows, and giving them some training on what we would like them to do and what they might expect. I am very lucky that there are so many keen people who live locally to Fishlake Meadows, in fact there will be over 20 wardens altogether.

Fishlake Meadows view

The idea for having volunteer wardens is that they help to increase our presence on site, engage with more people who visit Fishlake Meadows and report any issues to us that they come across. As well as keeping the paths neat and tidy with some litter picking and trimming overgrowing vegetation back. If you do see them onsite, please stop for a friendly chat and thank them for their hard work.

Fishlake Meadows southern viewing area view

Over the next few weeks I will begin setting up butterfly and dragonfly surveying, which lots of volunteers are keen to be involved with too. This will enable us to maximise our knowledge of species and numbers, which in turn continues informs our management. If you have any questions about Fishlake Meadows, please don’t hesitate to get in touch.

 

Spring at Fishlake Meadows

The warmer weather finally seems to be arriving, with even more forecast for the coming weeks. This is leading to lots of changes at Fishlake Meadows, flowers are coming out along the Barge Canal path, pussy willow is beginning to flower, and lots of different birds are pairing up, singing and getting ready for the breeding season.

 

I’m very excited to see what the change in seasons will bring for Fishlake Meadows. As butterflies and dragonflies begin emerging in earnest we will do our best to record them. There are some rarities and less common species amongst the dragonflies and damselflies which I hope to try and see, namely hairy dragonfly, downy emerald dragonfly and small red-eyed damselfly.

Male willow flower Fishlake Meadows

Willow catkins

 

There have been reports of great white egrets getting breeding plumage; they develop long lacy plumes on lower back, their bill starts to go black and their legs can become paler. Cettis warbler are singing all over the site, as are blackcaps. Many birds have been making use of the dead hedges our volunteers built at the end of the winter. This is particularly lovely as they are easily seen from the Barge Canal path.

RS1274_Blackcap 2

Blackcap

 

As spring and summer come along it will be amazing to see the reserve change and different wildlife putting on a show for us.