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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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.

 

Recent Reports and a Trip North

The last week has been very busy at Blashford Lakes, lots of work getting done around Ibsley Water, up the road at Linwood as well as several large education groups.

On the wildlife front the birds have been rather few, although reports of a brambling at the Woodland hide were interesting as I don’t think we have had one at the feeders in October before, perhaps we are in for  a “Finch Winter”. On this note there have been large flocks of siskin about with 70 or more around the Centre this week. On a slightly more mundane note 3 house sparrow by the Tern hide on Thursday were unusual as was a red-legged partridge there on Friday.

The wildlife highlight of the week, without doubt, has been the many sighting of otter in Ibsley Water, mainly from the Goosander hide, but also from Tern hide and from the descriptions it would have been visible from Lapwing hide several times too. There are pictures, but I don’t have any of them at present.

On Friday Ed and I had a trip north, well up to Winchester at least. WE went to look at the trust’s excellent Winnall Moors reserve and look at the grazing management for breeding waders and other species. It also enabled us to catch up with a little piece of Blashford.

The entrance to Winnall Moors made from a fallen Blashford oak.

The entrance to Winnall Moors made from a fallen Blashford oak.

The reserve is grazed by part of the herd of British White cattle that the Trust now uses to manage much of the grazing on our reserves. They do a wonderful job of grazing and browsing, produce very good beef and are easy to find, thanks to their white colour.

British White cattle on Winnall Moors

British White cattle on Winnall Moors

It was a beautiful, misty morning and as the mist burnt off it left droplets handing on every bit of vegetation and cobweb. Winnall Moors is a wetland site with many channels and lots of sluices that control the flow of water around the reserve.

Sluice at Winnall Moors

Sluice at Winnall Moors

As we walked round we were looking at how it might be possible to improve the habitat for nesting waders, such as lapwing and redshank. I suspect redshank may be gone for the foreseeable future as their fortunes, especially inland do not look good. Lapwing might be tempted back, but they often nest on spring ploughed arable land and to specially manage the herb rich wet grasslands at Winnall might result in more being lost than gained, so as with much land management balancing different interests will make for difficult decisions.

The afternoon saw us back at Blashford and making plans for more work on Ibsley Water, hopefully we will cut the main nesting island next week to stop trees and brambles growing on it and maybe prepare an extra area for terns to nest next year.

All in all a very fine autumn day, and as though to emphasise the season, I found this very smart fly agaric.

fly agaric

fly agaric