Fence post leftovers

Last Friday Bob had some dead trees at Blashford Lakes that needed felling, so I headed over to be his first aid cover. It was so great to venture further afield and get to have a look around the reserve again. The wildflower seed matting next to the welcome hut and around the new pond was packed with ragged robin.

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Ragged robin

On Monday I checked the Ashley Meadow fence line to make sure it was all in tact ahead of the cattle coming on sometime in June. On the last stretch I found the remains of what I think was a rat, given the size of the tail, on one of the fenceposts. As there are many birds of prey at Fishlake Meadows I wouldn’t like to say for certain what type of bird took it, but I imagine it much be quite a big one.

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Suspected rat tail

I then walked the rest of the paths, seeing lots of damselflies and what I’m fairly sure was a downy emerald dragonfly, but it flew away before I could get a good look. All around the reserve lots of common comfrey is in flower with its variable flower colours, it’s a great nectar source for many insects and a food plant of the scarlet tiger moth caterpillar.

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Common comfrey in flower

Bittersweet is also coming in to flower along the permissive path, its flowers are so striking with the contrasting deep purple and bright yellow, they are great to see. As it’s a member of the nightshade family, the berries that develop later are poisonous. Still, it’s bright coloured flowers are great to look at.

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Bittersweet

More and more insects are around at the moment, this hoverfly, which I’m fairly sure is helophilus pendulus, common name sun fly, was nectaring on a rose. Its latin name translates to “dangling marsh lover” and is typically found around boggy areas. There is a massive diversity in hoverflies and they can be difficult to identify, a group I’m keen to try and learn more about.

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helophilus pendulus or sun fly

Fishlake Meadows tree works

Tomorrow, Tuesday 12th May, 5 ash trees next to the path, location shown by the green triangle on the map, with significant ash dieback are being felled. While the tree surgeons are working there will be limited opportunity to walk this stretch of footpath. Therefore please avoid using this section of footpath on 12th May. Ash dieback makes the trees brittle and susceptible to collapse, therefore it is essential for safety that these trees are felled. European Protected Species and bat roost surveys have been completed and permission granted from the TVBC planning team. More information about ash dieback can be found here; https://www.hiwwt.org.uk/ash-dieback.

ash dieback tree

Ash tree with ash dieback

In addition to the ash trees there is a willow limb and 2 hanging branches that the tree surgeons will be removing, locations shown by green square and green circle, this work may roll over in to Wednesday 13th May. Again you may have to wait to walk through while the work is underway.

Ash tree work May 12th and 13th

Locations of works

Spring leaving some ash trees behind

On Friday I had a closer look at some ash trees that I had been waiting to come in to leaf to see what condition they were in. In short, they haven’t come in to leaf much at all, therefore I am now in the process of arranging to have them felled. They have advanced signs of dieback and are close to a path so unfortunately need to go. Ash trees on the reserve that aren’t near the paths, even if they have signs of dieback, will be left to die where they stand. If you would like to know more about ash dieback and the impact it’s having, there is a lot of information here; https://www.hiwwt.org.uk/ash-dieback. 

ash dieback tree

Ash tree with ash dieback

Cuckoos have been singing away for a few weeks now, I managed to get a good view of one on Friday, including getting a photo. The light meant it’s more of a silhouette shot, but you can clearly see the droopy wings which give it away. 

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Cuckoo with wings drooping below branch

 As well as lots of flowers coming in to bloom, the grasses and sedges are following suit. The greater pond sedge either side of the permissive path is particularly striking at the moment. 

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Greater pond sedge

 Many birds will be nesting already, indeed some greylag geese and mallards already have goslings and ducklings. It’s lovely to see them preparing for and looking after new arrivals, a pair of coot are nest building fairly close to the screens. It is important for all of us to tread lightly and be considerate of this, keep to the paths and move on if a bird seems agitated near you. 

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Coot with nesting material

 Damselflies are emerging more and more at the moment, and now the demoiselle’s are following, a week or so ago I saw my first banded demoiselle, and on  Friday I saw my first female beautiful demoiselle. It shouldn’t be too long until I spot my first dragonfly, indeed others may have already seen one. 

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Female beautiful demoiselle

 Fishlake Meadows now has it’s own standalone blog, so if you would like to continue to see what’s happening there please follow the link and subscribe here. I will continue to posts my blogs on to the Blashford blog for a short while to give people a chance to get signed up. 

Hawking hobby’s and other new arrivals

After strimming the rest of the paths on Monday, I walked down to the viewing screens. It was a fabulous day, lots of birds singing away and lots of birds hawking around overhead, including 4 hobby’s! They were feeding on the wing, picking off large flying insects. They were very high so didn’t manage a very good photo, but one that show’s their shape well.

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Hobby

Part way to the screens were a few pairs of greylag geese, all with goslings. Most of the goslings were up and about feeding, but a few were still preferring protection over exploring.

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Greylag goose and goslings

At the screens a Cetti’s warbler was making use of the dead hedge in front of the western screen, this is the second time I have seen one very close in this hedge. This one decided to give a quick burst of song which, as well as nearly deafening me, gave me a wonderful view and a chance to get a quick photo.

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Cetti’s warbler

On my way back I went in to the western fen to make a start on fence line checks and to see what flowers and insects were around. There were quite a few more damselflies than last week, including a freshly emerged and therefore not fully coloured blue-tailed damselfly.

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Blue-tailed damselfly

There are also a lot more flowers beginning to bloom, wintercress is coming in to flower across much of the reserve, particularly along the path edges, adding a splash of extra colour.

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Common wintercress

Unfortunately a bit of lockdown fatigue seems to be creeping in for visitors at Fishlake Meadows and I’ve started coming across people doing things they wouldn’t normally. Such as finding people sunbathing on some tree trunks about 30 metres off the public footpath. I also came across 2 people magnet fishing in the barge canal, who begrudgingly moved on after I told them the canal is a SSSI and therefore they would need consent for that type of activity, and also need to seek permission from the landowner first. It’s very important that we all hang in there and only leave home for the reasons clearly stated by government.

 

Strimming, singing and snapping

Since my last blog, I’ve had a busy week. I made the mistake of heading to Testwood Lakes with the intention of taking the strimmer to Fishlake Meadows on Friday. I hadn’t really expected the weather to be quite as bad as it was, so I gave the strimming a miss and did it on Monday instead. It was a very sunny day, hotter than ideal for strimming, and got pretty windy later on. I did manage to get a lot done, getting the path as wide as possible, without cutting too much vegetation, and creating passing places where I could.

From the viewing screens there is currently a good variety of bird life. On Sunday there were shelduck, teal, pochard, gadwall and coot close to the screens. It’s lovely to see a mix of species as wildfowl numbers seemed quite low over winter. The reserve is alive with sound at the moment, the viewing screens are one of the best places to listen from. Sedge warblers are singing very energetically at the moment, which in turn seems to spur on the Cetti’s warblers, and water rails are then never far behind in adding to the cacophony.

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Teal in front of the screen

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Shelduck pair

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Coot

Closer to home, I’ve carried on trying to get the hang of my macro photography lens. A dark-edged bee-fly kindly obliged by spending a good amount of time feeding on ground ivy in my garden. I also got a photo of one of my favourite flowers, scarlet pimpernel, they are such a beautiful colour. Another snap from home was an ashy mining bee on a dandelion in my lawn. This was taken on my iPhone and gives an impressively clear image. I sometimes think that my garden isn’t too good for insects as I don’t have as many wildflowers as I’d like, so a relief to see some insects.

dark bordered bee fly at home

Dark-edged bee-fly

Scarlet pimpernell

Scarlet pimpernel

Ashy mining bee

Ashy mining bee

Over the next week I will be doing more patrols at Fishlake, potentially more strimming and hopefully getting around to finishing off building some planters at home.

Beautiful Easter weekend

There have been more new arrivals to Fishlake Meadows over the last week, just yesterday I saw my first 2 swallows of the year and heard my first cuckoo. Unusually for cuckoo’s at Fishlake I only heard it once, maybe they will get more warmed up in the next couple of weeks. Following the cuckoo theme, the flower of the same name are now in bloom. Also known as lady’s smock , this is the food plant of the orange-tip butterfly caterpillar, who’s adults are sensibly now on the wing to coincide with their offspring’s food plant.

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Cuckoo flower

For those that are walking distance of Fishlake Meadows and have still been visiting, you may have noticed some additional signage stating the key social distancing guidance. Hopefully people will see these and take care to adhere to them. I’m not sure if it’s me being optimistic, but it does seem like more people are taking care to give as much space to others as possible. To help with this, I have trimmed the vegetation back along the canal path, I will be doing my best to keep some “passing bays” open.

After I had completed my site checks and was heading back along the canal path, I heard a bit of scrabbling coming from the canal bank, followed by a splosh and then saw a mammal swimming across the canal. It was a bank vole swimming away, I peered down the side of the bank to see if there was anything else there. Indeed there was, I saw a long thin mammal dash in to the vegetation and then a little face popped out looking right at me, before vanishing back in to the vegetation…a weasel. I wasn’t quick enough to get a photographic evidence of the weasel, all very exciting nonetheless.

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Bank vole

I enjoyed the long Easter weekend at home, it has been a pretty stressful time, so the long weekend was very welcome. On one of my local walks from my house, I got a great view of a female holly blue. I am lucky that there is a lot of green space near to me, none of it particularly large, and by no means a nature reserve, but a mix of some wild hedgerows next to paths, mature trees and amenity grassland areas. Thankfully the amenity grasslands haven’t been mown in a few weeks, so daisies, speedwells, forget-me-not’s and dandelions are thriving.

Holly blue in the leisure park

Female holly blue butterfly

I’m not sure if it’s a bumper year or if I’m paying more attention, but the blossom seem to be exceptional this year. Here are some from near me.

On Tuesday 14th April I was back to work, so went to Fishlake Meadows for site checks, it was a beautiful fresh morning and wonderful to be out. Fortunately I didn’t come across any signs of untoward behaviour. I did see some wonderful wildlife though; a flock of at least 20 swans flying over (potentially landing on the southern lake), oak trees flowering and some lovely views of sedge warblers. Unfortunately my photography skills leave something to be desired as I hadn’t managed to get the bird properly in focus.

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Swans flying to southern lake

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Oak flowering

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Sedge warbler

I’m looking forward to seeing what else is around in the next few weeks both at Fishlake Meadows and at home. Remember to keep safe and avoid places with narrow footpaths (such as Fishlake Meadows) where at all possible, and do not drive to nature reserves, exercise locally.

Fishlake Meadows latest arrivals

Lots has changed very quickly for all of us in the last few weeks. It is a challenging time, so I do my best to focus on the positives, such as it still being necessary to keep an eye on Fishlake Meadows. This provides a much needed escape and reassurance that things are still as they should be in nature.

swan on fishlake stream april 2020

Mute swan on Fishlake Stream

Spring is now in full swing at Fishlake Meadows with the arrival of our summer visitors. On Monday I was treated to the energetic song of several sedge warblers, making sure they got a claim on a little plot of the reserve. I also heard at least one willow warbler singing its beautiful song. The first mallard ducklings were already up and about foraging through the shallow water and vegetation while mother had a well earned rest, but with a beady eye on me.

Mallard ducklings 2020

Female mallard and ducklings

Other delights were seeing a Cetti’s warbler foraging through the dead hedge in front of the western viewing screen, giving me a surprisingly good view for once. Also seeing my first male orange tip butterfly of the year was lovely, a sign that spring has really and truly begun.

Cetti's warbler

Cetti’s warbler in dead hedge

To comply with coronavirus guidelines I am now primarily working from home, and carrying out a few site checks each week. This is to keep an eye on trees, infrastructure and soon strimming the paths to keep them open. As previously stated, the paths at Fishlake Meadows don’t easily allow the 2 metre distancing, therefore if at all possible I would advise taking your daily exercise at a wide open space rather than narrow footpaths. Please do not drive to the reserve, the car park is now closed.

Having more time at home has given me the chance to spend more time in my garden. I have had some more luck with growing seeds as I’ve been able to pay more attention to them. They are mainly wildflowers, but also some garden flowers, only sowed on the 21st March, just 2.5 weeks ago!

I have also finally got round to putting a pond in to my garden. This is just 3 different pots, part buried in to the lawn and then some sticks in to provide escape routes if any creatures fall in accidentally. Once things return to normal I’m hoping to get some water mint and yellow flag iris planted in the pots and to add some stones in, and around the pots to blend them in to the garden better.

pond at home

Fishlake Meadows winter works

This winter has been a particularly challenging one, heavy rain starting in September has meant much of the winter work simply couldn’t happen, at times the reserve was so flooded that it put a stop to all work. Then just as the reserve was drying out Covid-19 struck putting a stop on all remaining work parties.

 

Despite all that, the volunteers have worked very hard and we were still able to clear one whole block of scrub, make a strong start on another and do a lot more on the wettest block in the middle. As well as all the scrub cutting we now have some wonderful new dead hedging for birds and invertebrates. A huge thank you to everyone who has been involved with the work parties.

Other work that’s happened this winter is scrub cutting in Ashley Meadow and the Western Fen. It’s important we do some scrub cutting in these compartments each year to prevent scrub from gradually taking over these floristically richer areas. This would eventually shade out the herb layer of vegetation if allowed to grow unchecked. Some areas near the canal path have been cleared to create some variety and open up views. In one area some collapsed willow was cut back in the hope of creating views where water rail are often heard. This does seem to have worked as a couple have been seen in this area since. In the same area we coppiced some hazel and laid one shoot to see if another hazel stool can be encouraged. This is simply digging a small hole, bending a shoot over and burying the tip in the soil, then using a small “fork” of cut hazel to help keep the shoot in place. It will be interesting to see if any growth appears this year.

Buttercups in ashley meadow

Ashley Meadow in Spring

Now a brief coronavirus update relating to Fishlake Meadows; Test Valley Borough Council and ourselves (HIWWT) have taken the decision to close the car park at Fishlake Meadows. Site checks have been reduced, with me visiting a few times a week so I can keep an eye on the reserve to make sure everything is as it should be, all volunteers have been stood down for the time being. We have issued the advice that the footpaths at Fishlake Meadows don’t really allow for the 2 metre distancing and therefore it would be better to go to a wide open space for daily exercise.

I have been posting regular updates on social media, and will continue to do so through blogs too. This is a way to keep people in touch with nature while time outdoors away from home is restricted. I will make this clear, and that it is not encouragement to head to reserve personally. I would appreciate that others do the same, and if you share  your sightings on going birding, please refrain from doing so for now as not to encourage others to travel to search them out. Records can still be submitted confidentially. Keep up the hard work of staying safe and staying home.

 

 

Festive wishes from Fishlake Meadows

It’s been a busy year with lots of exciting visitors; osprey, glossy ibis, garganey and bittern to name but a few. The reserve is also lucky to still be home to lots of exciting regulars too, there aren’t many reserves where hearing and seeing cetti’s warbler, water rail and kingfisher becomes the norm.

The vegetation of Fishlake Meadows has also been amazing this year. This could be down to a very dry summer last year and this year. The dry weather was likely at least partly the reason for a couple of unexpected flowers appearing this year. During the condition habitat assessment we found changing forget me not, typically a species of “very dry habitats” which isn’t how I would describe Fishlake Meadows. Another surprise was spotting a pyramidal orchid while strimming the electric fence line in Ashley Meadow. Again, typically a species of dry habitats and usually found on chalk, it will be interesting to see if either of these appear again in the summer of 2020.

The more commonly seen flower species were also fantastic at Fishlake Meadows this year, the array of umbellifer’s in particular was amazing, and a wonderful source of nectar for invertebrates. I was able to get many photos of them alive with insects, the photo below is wild angelica proving very popular with common soldier beetles, a hoverfly and a wasp.

Wild angelica covered in insects

Other umbellifer’s that were In flower this summer were meadowsweet, common valerian and hemlock water dropwort.

The volunteers have been wonderful again this year, wardens visit the reserve daily to help keep visitors up to date, litter pick, trim back vegetation from paths and report any problems or interesting sightings. Volunteer lookers help to keep an eye on the cows while they are grazing the reserve through the summer. The locking and unlocking of the reserve car park is also solely done by volunteers. Work party volunteers are a big help with getting through the scrub cutting needed each winter. Although the very wet weather has put a bit of a hold on clearing the blocks of scrub in the reeds, as the water is now too deep to get to the willow to cut it.

The water levels are still very high around the reserve, so please be very careful to stick to the paths when visiting and wellington boots are still essential to make it to the viewing screens at the end of the permissive path (yesterday the water was up to the middle of my calf). Hopefully the weather forecasts for the next few weeks are accurate and there won’t be too much rain, giving the water levels a chance to drop.

Finally, I hope everyone has a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year! Fingers crossed for a 2020 full of exciting sightings and progress around Fishlake Meadows.

 

 

Recent Activity and a Little Wildlife

I am sorry for the lack of posts recently, I will try and get back to a couple a week again. Recent weeks have been busy both at Blashford and at Fishlake.

At Blashford the volunteers have been constructing an artificial badger sett.

badger sett construction

badger sett construction, the chamber.

Once the chamber had been made a roof was added along with an entrance tunnel.

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construction continues.

Yesterday we covered the whole structure with a layer of soil to bury, now all we have to do is wait and see if the badgers approve.

The ponies have now left Blashford as the grazing season draws to a close. Meanwhile at Fishlake the cattle have grazed in both Ashley Meadow and the North-west fen and done a great job. Reducing the tall herbage will take several seasons but we are now holding the succession into rank fen with increasing willow scrub and starting to reverse it.

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British white cattle, now back in Ashley Meadow.

The autumn has been relatively quite for birds, or at least for rarities at both sites. Fishlake has been visited by several osprey, but they have not stayed as long as in  previous years. There have been several great (white) egret as both sites and 2 cattle egret flew south over Ibsley Water at Blashford. Both sites are now starting to see increases in wildfowl, with small flocks of teal at Fishlake and wigeon at Blashford.

The warm summer saw a number of records of lesser emperor dragonfly, a migrant that is occurring in increasing numbers, this great picture of a hovering male was sent in by  Kevin Kearns.

lesser emperor Kevin Kearns

lesser emperor Kevin Kearns

Moths have been a little disappointing, with a couple of Clifden nonpareil and a few commoner migrants. We have caught a couple more of the non-native Australian Pyralid, Masotima nitidalis, introduced with tree ferns but now evidently eating our native ferns in the wild.

Masotima nitidalis

Masotima nitidalis

There is still time for some autumn excitement where migrant birds are concerned, although we will soon be entering the late autumn lull before the main arrival of wintering birds. Insects will be winding down for winter, but fungi are coming into their main season, so there is always something to look forward to.

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Fungus season is starting