Cows and Crickets

Hello, to the first post of this new blog. It covers a range of nature reserves in south-east Hampshire, primarily Farlington Marshes, but also including Swanwick Lakes, Southmoor, Hookheath Meadow and a number of smaller sites in the Portsmouth area. Not that I will necessarily restrict it to only those sites. As Solent Reserves Officer I will try to post a few times each week, hopefully supported by other staff working these sites.

I moved across from Blashford Lakes a fortnight ago so there is a bit of catching up to do in this first post. The first week in  a new job is always a bit hectic, so I did not get out much in the first week. I did have a look around at Farlington on Thursday 13th, in warm sunshine the reserve was alive with insects, especially north of the A27. Around Peter’s Pond there were lots of dragonflies including this female southern hawker.

southern hawker, female

The commonest dragonfly was the migrant hawker, I had a good look for southern migrant hawker, the much rarer southern species that is increasingly being recorded in southern England, although I don’t think in Hampshire yet. However I had to settle for lots of very fine migrant hawkers.

migrant hawker, male

I also spotted a single damselfly, it turned out to be a male small red-eyed damselfly, a species that has colonised Britain in the last ten years or so. It was not all dragonflies, there were lots of bush crickets, including many Roesel’s bush crickets, I can still just about hear these, but they are not the deafening presence that they used to be, a sign of creeping age I’m afraid.

Roesel’s bush cricket

The Pony Field was especially good for the Roesel’s and the banks of flowering common fleabane there and alongside the Old Copse were attracting lots of hoverflies like this  Helophilus trivittatus.

Helophilus trivitatus

On my wat back to the southern part of the reserve I noticed a heavily nibbled willow branch, the leaves were eaten away but the mid-ribs left behind, a sign of caterpillars and sure enough further down I found  a cluster of buff tip caterpillars.

buff tip caterpillars

On Tuesday of last week I got back to Farlington again, this time to work with the regular volunteer team on the never-ending task of fencing, in this case replacing another stretch of the “RA” fence, so-called because it fenced the cattle out of the “Reed Area” so that it would grow and provide habitat. The original fence was put up in 1963 and one or two of the original larch posts are still, just about, in service, testament to the quality of slow grown larch posts over modern treated softwood.

volunteers working on RA fence at Farlington Marshes

The fencing is vital to the marshes because it enables the fields to be grazed by cattle, without them scrub would rapidly take over and no longer be suitable for the grazing geese and breeding lapwing. Almost any land left ungrazed or unmown will quite rapidly develop into scrub and then woodland, which has always made me curious why so much time, money and effort goes into planting trees to create woodland, when doing nothing would usually achieve a very similar result!

cattle on North Marsh

At this time of year the cattle attract flocks of yellow wagtails that follow them around catching the insects they disturb from the grass.

yellow wagtails

Yellow wagtails used to breed at Farlington Marshes, in fact they remained regular breeders there long after they had disappeared from their other Hampshire haunts, but then suddenly died out around the turn of the millennium. It is good to see the site is still important to them, even if only as a migration refuelling stop.

I made it back again on Friday and, as it was high tide I checked out the Lake, where there was a good roost of waders including 2 curlew sandpiper, my first of the autumn.

the wader roost

On the near edge of the Lake there was a very approachable lapwing so I had to get a picture of that too.


I walked right around the seawall, the tide was very large, completely covering some of the smaller islands such as Little Binness and the Old Oyster House at the Point. I was very surprised to see a common scoter very close in off the Point, I have seen others well out in the Harbour on occasion, but never one this close.

common scoter

On Thursday I was back at my old haunt at Blashford Lakes working with the volunteer team there to clear the shore near the Tern hide.

volunteers clearing the shore of Ibsley Water

My day at Blashford started rather well when I saw 2 garganey out on Ibsley Water, I think the only multiple sighting I have ever had there.

On Saturday I was at Swanwick for a Family Funday organised by our partners in the project there. It was a fine sunny day, in complete contrast to Sunday. Once again the sun had brought out a good range of insects, although the female dark bush cricket in the picture was actually found inside the bucket in which we collect the tea bags and other compostable material in the kitchen!

dark bush cricket, female

I was due to be back at Swanwick today, in fact I was there but the plan to go and work with the volunteers there fell victim to the dreadful weather so I went back to paperwork in the office. Things did pick up again in the afternoon so I went back to check for any tree damage and see that the cattle were alright. We have six Devon red cattle grazing at Swanwick, with another small group at Hookheath Meadow.

Swanwick Devon reds

Tomorrow I am back at Farlington, hoping for weather suitable for bramble clearing on South Marsh, I fear we may not get it!











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