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.

 

 

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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.

Pathwork

We have been having an upgrade to the paths at Blashford over recent days and so if you visit you will see lots of new surfaces. We are also getting the wooden bridges  refurbished so both will be subject to closures for periods as this is being done.

We have also been working on the paths at Fishlake Meadows, yesterday the volunteers were clearing the path edges where the recent rain had caused the vegetation to flop across the path. There will be surfacing work starting here too, so watch this space for updates on when this will be happening.

banded demoiselle

banded demoiselle

Along the canal path on a dull day we saw lots of resting banded demoiselle, mostly males like the one above.

The fields are looking very wet again after recent rain, but very green and flower filled. Yellow flag iris are particularly obvious, but there is a lot else, including some very splendid southern marsh orchids.

southern marsh orchid

southern marsh orchid

There were at least four cuckoo flying around, three of them males that were “cuckooing” constantly, I thought there might have been five and someone later reported six! Fishlake is a remarkable site for this species.

I was back at Blashford later in the day where the number of moths at the trap have increased significantly in recent days, a reflection of warmer nights which allow the moths to fly for much longer through the night. Meanwhile warmer days are resulting in lots of insects across a wide range of groups getting out and about. I saw this black-striped longhorn beetle when I went to lock up the hides yesterday evening.

black-striped longhorn beetle

black-striped longhorn beetle

I will be having a go at the 30 Days Wild again this year and will be trying to do a blog everyday throughout the month once again. There is still time to sign up if you visit 30 Days Wild sign up where you can join thousands of others who will be promoting the benefits of a !Wildlife” throughout the month.

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.

Recent Works

There has been lots happening at Fishlake Meadows in the last few weeks. Our contractors have been working hard getting lots of the fencing complete. You may have noticed some of this as you walk around the site, particularly along the bottom of the Barge Canal path. Fencing has also been put in next to a ditch that runs along what we imaginatively call the north/south path, this will be a new path that runs in to the centre of the site. It will hopefully be open for the summer.

New fencing north south path

The fencing has been put in for a few reasons, primarily its in preparation for getting cattle on site to graze the different compartments. The fencing also helps to protect the habitats of Fishlake Meadows by preventing people from walking through sensitive areas and causing disturbance to wildlife. Finally it’s for health and safety, the ditch that runs along the north/south path is very deep and not always easy to tell where the edge of the bank is.

New fence SE corner of site

The path that runs between Cuppernham Lane and World of Water which we refer to as the east/west path has been scraped clear of mud. This has made an improvement to the surface by exposing a much firmer and drier surface. There are still lots of wet, muddy areas, because in some places the path is lower than the ditch level. The path surface is going to be improved, hopefully for the summer, this scraping to investigate what’s below helps with the planning of this work.

Surface mud scraped east west path

New volunteer evening meeting

On the 21st March we held a very successful evening meeting for the new volunteers of Fishlake Meadows at the World of Water café. The volunteers enjoyed tea, coffee and cake on arrival, served by the wonderful café team.

Volunteers were given an update of Fishlake Meadows recent history, how it became a nature reserve and how it’s changed by Central and West Reserves Manager and Assistant Director Martin De Retuerto, an overview of habitat management plans and special species by Reserves Officer Robert Chapman and finally information on volunteer opportunities by Reserves Officer Joanna Armson.

Evening meeting 21.3.18

It turned in to a bit of a squeeze in the café with so many keen volunteers attending.

 

The turn out was fantastic, out of a potential 77 volunteers 46 came along. This has allowed me to make a start getting people filtered in to roles and organise training, which will be happening over the next few weeks for Wardens. Having volunteer Wardens will allow us to increase our presence at Fishlake Meadows and engage with more members of the public.

Over the next few months I will be getting surveys underway and delivering training where necessary. If you’re interested in volunteering at Fishlake Meadows please get in touch by emailing jo.armson@hiwwt.org.uk or phoning 023 8042 4205.