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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Fishlake Flowers

I was working at Fishlake Meadows yesterday morning and it was wonderful to be somewhere so green and full of flowers. Access to water is not a problem for the plants at Fishlake so they have kept growing whilst the rest of the countryside has turned brown.

fen flowers

Floriferous Fishlake

Many of these flowers are also very good nectar sources and it was noticeable how many bees there were visiting the flowers. Butterflies were also common, but there were rather few hoverflies, but this maybe because they tend to keep out of the sun at the warmest part of the day.

Over-topping most of the others is the hemp agrimony, a popular plant with butterflies like peacock and red admiral.

hemp agrimony

hemp agrimony

Another very tall plant is angelica, an umbellifer and very popular with hoverflies.

angelica

angelica

Slightly smaller and almost finished flowering now, the meadow sweet is a typical plant of wet meadows and river banks.

meadow sweet

meadow sweet

Of similar height and with prominent purple spires of flower, the purple loosestrife is impossible to miss and very popular with nectaring bees, brimstone and white butterflies.

purple loosestrife

purple loosestrife

Some plants get a bad press and thistles are certainly one of these, they can be  a nuisance when they become dominant, but they are a great nectar source for lots of insects, popular with bees, butterflies and flies. At Fishlake creeping thistle is scattered and as such not a problem but an addition to the floral display.

creeping thistle

creeping thistle

A particular favourite with bees is comfrey, the bell-like flowers of which come in two shades, this is the paler one.

comfrey

comfrey

To get at the nectar of the comfrey needs a long tongue, for those that do not have one more open flowers and especially composites are a favourite. Ones with a good supply of food will also attract longer tongued visitors too, fleabane is popular with a wide range of species from hoverflies to butterflies.

fleabane

fleabane

Fleabane dies best on damp ground, where the ground is properly wet a favourite flower with insects is water mint, this will grow on the bank and as an emergent plant in shallow water.

water mint

water mint

All in all something to suit all nectar seekers, we can mimic this diversity of flower type in our gardens if we too want to attract the widest range of insects.

 

From Lakes to Lake

Last Sunday I spent the day at Hampshire & Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust’s new reserve at Fishlake Meadows on the edge of Romsey. The reserve is so new that we don’t yet have a reserves officer in post, but it is good to have some presence on site, so for the day I got to swap Blashford Lakes for Fishlake.

The site is around 60ha of abandoned farmland that has flooded to produce a mosaic of open water, reedbed and fen, wonderful habitat for a wide range of species. At present views across the site are limited by rapidly colonising willow and bramble, but tantalising glimpses can be had across the area from the old barge canal that runs north from the town.

The day was much finer than had been forecast and instead of dodging showers I got to enjoy a huge range of insects enjoying the flowery fen vegetation. One species that I was very pleased to see was the yellow loosestrife bee. This species is dependent upon the yellow loosestrife, not for nectar or even for pollen, but for its oil. Why would a bee need oil? That is the really clever part of the story, the bees collect the oil from the flowers on special hairs on their legs and use it to waterproof their nest chambers. This allows them to make their nests in areas that are prone to flooding, so they can nest close to the flower rich fen rather than having to nest elsewhere and waste energy flying in.

yellow loostrife bee

Yellow loosestrife bee, nectaring on creeping thistle.

The huge number of flowers attract lots of different bees and I saw many species, although identifying them is a bit of a challenge. I think this one is a patchwork leafcutter bee, but I could be wrong, also nectaring on a thistle, this time a spear thistle.

patchwork leafcutter bee female

Patchwork leafcutter bee

I also saw lot of wasps, these are even more of a challenge to identify and I have not even tried with this one.

parasitic wasp

parasitic wasp

There was an osprey on site when I was there but I managed very skilfully to miss it entirely.

A Leech You Would Not Want to Meet

A much better day at Blashford today, with no more than the lightest of rain for a few minutes and a fair bit of warm sunshine. I made the most of the conditions and got outside for part of the day. As ever being out does rather increase the chances of seeing interesting things and when I was over at the Tern hide I saw a very smart adult female honey buzzard, it was flying steadily westwards over the lake being chased by 2 common tern. I was looking at the potential route of the new path that will connect the main car park with the Goosander and Lapwing hides, a development that we hope to put in place in time for the coming winter.

I went round the path as far as the Lapwing hide to check for any trees or branches down as I never made it there yesterday. There were none but close to the Lapwing hide the show of hemp agrimony and fleabane is superb and attracting lots of insects.

fleabane and hemp agrimony

fleabane and hemp agrimony

There were several species of butterflies, including very fresh speckled wood.

speckled wood

speckled wood

And green-veined and small white.

small white

small white

Walking back I could hear several Roesel’s bush-cricket, although I find they are no where near so loud as once they were, a sign of advancing age I’m sorry to say, but at least I can still hear  them. I eventually found one rather worn male of the long-winged form.

Roesel's bush-cricket

Roesel’s bush-cricket

I took a look at some of the temporary ponds we made a few years ago and was delighted to see that where they were once infested with the invasive plant Crassula helmsii  this has now all but disappeared. I also found a lesser marsh grasshopper on the bare ground in one of the pools.

lesser marsh grasshopper

lesser marsh grasshopper

I then returned to my office work, but the interesting wildlife did not end there. Blashford was hosting a “Wild Day Out” today and this included pond-dipping during which one of the children caught  a largish leech.

leech

leech

Looking closely we could see that it seemed to have a “hairy” underside.

leech with "hairy" tummy!

leech with “hairy” tummy!

In fact these were tiny little leeches, the offspring of this adult leech. Now I confess that leech identification is well outside my usual area but I think it might be Protoclepsis tesselata which is a leech that lives in the nasal passages of wildfowl, surely an unpleasant lifestyle even for a leech!

Thistle Do(wn)

Hi(low)light of the day was an injured young greylag goose which some visitors saw being hit by a car on Ellingham Drove. Fortunately they  managed to catch it and bring in to the centre. We don’t have facilities or expertise to deal with injured wildlife, but there is a gentleman living close by who is able and prepared to give his time to rescuing wildlife and was willing to look after this bird.

At this time of year the initial frenzy of bird breeding activity has largely abated, many adults will no longer be holding breeding territories and are not so vocal. As they start to moult their plumage they will be less nimble and need to keep under cover, away from predators and birdwatchers.  A larger number of the waterfowl are now spending time simply loafing about on the lakes. For instance some 400 coot have been counted on Ibsley water.  I was asked to count them today, but unfortunately didn’t have a telescope with me.  Some birds, though, are easier to see as were the little egret and grey heron.

Little egret - note the yellow foot

Little egret – note the yellow foot

 

Grey heron

Grey heron

More a time for insect and wildflower interest at the moment. Trolling up to the seasonal path to check on the ponies we have grazing the reserve,  I noticed a profusion of pink, yellow and purple from hemp agrimony, fleabane and a mixture of spear thistles  and creeping thistles.

Hemp agrimony

Hemp agrimony

The flowers look sort of ‘washed out’ from the side view, but are magnificently intricate and olourful from above

Top view of hemp agrimony flower

Top view of hemp agrimony flower

Fleabane flowers are, perhaps,  one of the the richest yellow colours on the reserve,

Fleabane

Fleabane

especially where they occur in large clumps,

P1520842

whilst the delightful purple shades of  spear thistle are a welcome attractant to many insects.

hoverfly (Volucella inanis?) on spear thistle

hoverfly (Volucella inanis?) on spear thistle

even without accompanying insects the plants are a captivating structurally

spear thistle

spear thistle

although an awful lot of the creeping thistle have now set wonderfully fluffy seed heads

creeping thistle seed heads

creeping thistle seed heads

When I took this shot I was unaware of the small tortoiseshell – a sort of bonus really.

As I hinted above, there are plenty of insects around, but the heat is keeping most of them fairly active – so tricky to photograph, but I was quite pleased with this shot of a common blue damselfly.

common blue damselfly perched on a nettle leaf

common blue damselfly perched on a nettle leaf

The light trap is now in more regular use, following a period when a bird (robin I believe) was using it as a larder.  Pick of today’s ‘catch’ were this almost butterfly like moth, a  large emerald.

Large emerald

Large emerald

not to be outdone by an impressive garden tiger moth,

garden tiger moth

garden tiger moth

and an equally impressive tanner beetle.

tanner beetle

tanner beetle