The White Stuff

A Red Letter Day for Fishlake Meadows today, we finally have some cattle on site! We had hoped they would be on much earlier and next year I am sure we will. They will be grazing in Ashley Meadow for the next few weeks, hopefully helping us to maintain the rich fen habitat.

English White cattle on Ashley Meadow

British White cattle on Ashley Meadow

As we were unable to graze the meadow earlier in the year we did take a hay cut from about half of the field.

Ashley Meadow

Ashley Meadow showing the boundary between the cut and uncut areas

The intention is to maintain a mix of tall and slightly shorter herbage with very few trees and shrubs. Such habitats are very rich in plants and as a result invertebrates. Mowing certainly can deliver this, but the act of mowing is rather dramatic, eliminating large areas of habitat at a stroke, by contrast grazing achieves a similar result but at a more gradual pace. Gazing animals will also favour some areas and species over others so the variability in height, what is known as the “structure” of the grassland will be greater.

When I was in Ashley Meadow preparing for the arrival of the cattle today I saw a good range of species including several very smart small copper.

small copper

small copper

There was a very interesting article in a recent issue of British Wildlife magazine which highlighted the effects of different grassland management regimes on spider populations and species. I have not managed to identify the one below yet, but I saw it lurking on a flower waiting for an unwary insect to be lured in.

spider

crab spider on fleabane flower

When looking at grassland management there are many considerations, should it be mown or grazed,or both, most hayfields are cut for the hay crop and then grazed later in the season. Traditional hay meadows were cut around or just after mid-summer and this favoured plants that set seed by this time like yellow rattle or which spread vegetatively. Modern grass cropping by silage making produces a much larger grass crop but the grassland is more or less a mono-culture, the land may be green but it is certainly not pleasant as far as most wildlife is concerned.

Once the cutting regime is settled there is grazing to consider, but not all animals graze in the same way, sheep and horses cut the grass short using their teeth, cattle rip the grass in tufts using their tongue to gather each bunch. The resulting grassland will look very different and be home to very different wildlife. Timing of grazing will also make a big difference, mid-late summer grazing tends to produce the most diverse flora, but this will vary with location and ground type.

Lastly different breed of animals will graze in different ways, our cattle at Fishlake are British Whites, a traditional bred that will eat grass but also likes to mix in some rougher sedge and other herbage as well as some tree leaves and twigs, ideal for a site such as Fishlake Meadows.

It was not only a white themed day at Fishlake, as I locked up at Blashford Lakes the view from Tern hide was filled with birds, in particular 13 brilliant white little egret and 2 great white egret.

herons egrets and cormorants

egrets, herons and cormorants

Ibsley Water has been attracting huge numbers of fish eating birds recently, with up to 300 cormorant, over 100 grey heron and the egrets, although I have failed to see them there have also been 2 cattle egret seen.

Ivy Lake has also produced a few notable records int he last few days, yesterday a bittern was photographed flying past Ivy South hide, far and away our earliest reserve record, but with the British population doing much better these days perhaps something we will get used to as young birds disperse. There have also been a few notable ducks, yesterday a juvenile garganey and today 4 wigeon , 3 pintail and a few shoveler as well as good numbers of gadwall and a dozen or so teal.

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Taking Stock

Things have been relatively quiet at Blashford recently, although also very busy! Quiet in that we are in a time when the breeding season is more or less over and the migration season has hardly started.

Overall the bird nesting season was a mixed story. Resident birds mostly started late, the snow in March set them back. The migrants were mostly late arriving, with some in lower numbers than usual. It seemed that migrants that come from the SE were much as usual but those that take the West African route were down. Having arrived most small birds relished the warm weather with lots of insects to feed their young and seem to have done well. Resident species have had a more mixed time, single brooded species such as blue tits have done well, multi-brooded worm feeders like blackbird and song thrush have had a harder time.

Overall it has been a bumper season for insects, in the main they all do well in a hot summer a hot summer, although those that use shallow wetlands are probably finding things difficult.

six-spot burnet

six-spot burnet moth

As the breeding season ends we are starting to see some migration, swift are leaving as are the young of the first brood of sand martin and adult cuckoo have all gone. The first waders are coming back from the north, green sand piper and a number of common sandpiper have been seen on the reserve.

Yesterday a party of 7 black-tailed godwit flew south over Ibsley Water, they were in full breeding plumage and showed no sign of moult, so I would guess they were newly arrived from Iceland. If conditions are good they will make the flight in one go, arriving at a favoured moult site such as one of the harbours on the south coast. Once they get here wing moult starts almost straight away.

Further signs of approaching autumn are rather larger, at Fishlake Meadows 2 osprey have recently been seen perched up in the dead trees, one carries a blue ring, apparently ringed as a nestling in Scotland.

The prolonged hot weather is taking a toll, a lot of trees are losing their leaves in an attempt to reduce water loss, some will lose branches and as the ground dries one or two are falling. Perhaps surprisingly it is often trees growing on usually damp sites that are suffering the most. Easily accessible water in typical times mean they have not developed such large or deep root systems and are more vulnerable in drought conditions.

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 – Day 20 – A Leopard

Back at Blashford and checking the moth trap I found it contained a leopard moth, these strange moths have larvae that eat wood. They tunnel into the stems of living trees and shrubs, typically in branches and take two or three years to grow to sufficient size to pupate. The moth was rather battered, they are a moth which doe snot seem to stay in good condition for very long.

battered leopard moth

leopard moth

It seems I missed one in much better condition in the trap in Monday, although the books say they are quite common this is a species I do not see every year, so two in the week is good for Blashford.

There a a fair few other moths, but nothing of great note and the only other one that I had not seen so far this year was a tiny micro-moth.

Caloptilia populetorum

Caloptilia populetorum

I am not sure if I have seen this species before, it’s larvae eat birch so you might think is would be common and widespread, however it seems to be quite local. Clearly there are many other factors that influence their distribution.

After a morning at Blashford I had to go over to Fishlake at lunchtime. I was meeting with members of the Trust’s grazing team about getting some of their British White cattle onto the reserve to help preserve the varied fen vegetation. The fields look very attractive with purple loostrife, comfrey, meadow sweet, common meadow-rue and much more.

meadow rue with tree bumble-bee

common meadow-rue, with tree bumble-bee

If the meadows are so good you might ask why graze them? The answer is to keep them in this state. Years without grazing have seen them start to scrub over in places and become more dominated by very tall vigorous species, shading out the lower growing plants.

The tree bumble-bee hovering to the right of the picture is one of the more distinctive bumble-bees, with a brown thorax and black abdomen with a white tail end. This is a recent colonist of the UK arriving at the turn of the millennium and being first found in Southampton. As far as we know it crossed the channel unaided and has now travelled up the country as far as northern Scotland and west to Ireland.

What’s in My Meadow Today?

It was warm and sunny when I arrived home and a quick look in the meadow revealed lots of insects, best was a skipper butterfly, my first in the garden this year.

Essex skipper on wild carrot

Essex skipper on wild carrot

The Essex and small skipper are very similar, best separated by the black underside to the tip of the antennae. The picture seems to show they are present on this one making it an Essex skipper.

 

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.

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