Saturday, 25 July 2015

Hempstead Meadow - Pulling the Balsam.

A couple of years ago, I spent a couple of mornings pulling Himalayan Balsam from the Hempstead Meadow nature reserve, run by Uckfield Town Council.  I thought we had done a pretty thorough job until the next time I travelled by train and saw a band of pink at the far side of the reserve. At the time, it felt like it was taunting me.

Himalayan Balsam - pretty but invasive.
You know what they say about revenge? It's a dish best served cold. Today I, another volunteer and the Town Ranger, removed significant quantities of Balsam from two good sized areas of the reserve.  I was particularly pleased that I created spaces for seed from the pretty, frothy Meadowsweet to fall into.

Meadowsweet (centre) and Black Poplar (left back).
I knew that the Black Poplars (see back left of photo) that grow in the reserve are rare and special but I didn't know that they were such tricky breeders. Our knowledgeable ranger, Geoff, explained need a male and a female tree close enough together for pollination, then the seed must fall into ground that is "anerobic" because it has been flooded. With modern farming methods, there are few places that meet these conditions.

He also pointed out the different types of willowherb in the reserve. There is Rose-bay Willowherb near the railway, some Great Willowherb near the stickleback bridge and, new to me, Hoary Willowherb near the places where we were working.

Pink coloured Rose-bay Willowherb near the railway.
The time just whizzed by. While I was at the reserve, I saw several butterflies including colourful commas, pretty little moths and all sorts of intriguing insects.

A weird little Tortoise sheildbug.
As a gardener, I'm not a big fan of molluscs but I was rather taken with the golden coloured snails I found in the Balsam.

Marsh snail.
When I had had enough, I pottered off home, stopping briefly to check out the spot where I had previously seen a stickleback nest. I didn't see any fish this time but there was a variety of flowers including yellow loosestrife.

Yellow loosestrife near "stickleback" bridge.

Saturday, 4 July 2015

30 Days Wild - Free the Human

It's just a few days since I finished my 3 days wild. I've seen so many surprising and lovely things, from Bee Orchids on waste ground in Birmingham to the creatures that visit our Uckfield garden.

I wouldn't be me if I didn't reflect on and analyse my 30 days wild. So here is a wordle based on my #30DaysWild tweets.

As you can see, I've been observing nature in my home town of Uckfield (in Sussex) and my current place of work, near Birmingham. Although the weekly commute is a chore, it's given me a chance to be wild in both the city and the countryside. Given the challenge to find wildlife every day motivated me to really look at places near the office and hotels giving me some unforgettable encounters.
Young house martins at the Arden Hotel
I notice that two words I used a lot were love and enjoy. I had an absolute ball trying to find nature every day. It gave me the impetus to explore new places. It also gave me a reason to really look at familiar friends like my favourite bee.

Patchwork leaf cutter bee in my Uckfield garden.
All this searching for wildlife is a pleasant way of taking exercise. Tiny interludes, like a teleconference taken outside or visiting a pond next to the office, can make the working day less stressful and more fun. At work, we recently received an email suggesting we spend a few minutes outside in the sun each day to top up vitamin D levels. Who am I to argue?

Topping up vitamin D as per my employer's instructions.
I've been exploring outside wherever I find myself - not just waiting for holidays. In Birmingham, I discovered a huge park just opposite one of the hotels I use. Closer to home, I visited Chailey Common properly for the first time. I hope to be exploring both places much more in the future.

Ellie-May and Hamish bracken rolling at Chailey Common.
Some of my wildlife encounters came about because others were generous with their knowledge. When a fellow commuter at Uckfield station realised I was interested in the local wildlife, he told me where to look for a pair of grey wagtails. In turn I showed some of my colleagues where to find orchids in a surprising place.

Bee orchids at Trinity Park business park, near NEC Birmingham.

I just have to do it - 30 days wild in numbers:
  • 76 Tweets
  • 12 blog posts
  • about 100 photos shared out of a thousand taken
  • 3 drawings.
Drawing of Tern in front of an NEC hotel.
I've learnt so much from 30 days wild. Obviously, I've learnt about the wildlife around me but there is much more. Just one example - getting the photos that told the stories I wanted to share, really pushed my photographic skills.

I've even found that I am using my senses more.  I like to observe things but my observations have tended to be visual. Over the 30 Days, I've been listening much more to the twitter of house martins arriving at their nests, buzzing bees and swishing grasses. I've enjoyed feeling the wind and rain on my face, tasting the sweetness of strawberries eaten straight from the garden, touching rough barked trees and soft fur.
Taking a few minutes out of the working day to get wildlife photos.
So will I continue my wild life? Of course I will.

Thursday, 2 July 2015

30 Days Wild - Days 29 and 30 - Journey's End

This is the last blog of my 30 Days Wild Series.  My wildlife journey is coming to an end.

Monday, 29th June

This was a busy, busy day. I had planned to do a particular piece of work that needed a whole day's clear run. I had everything planned - but, as they say, if you want to make God laugh, make plans.  There was a crisis, not a huge one - but enough to get me and others scrambling round sorting things out for much of the morning. After all that, I just had to get outside to shed some of the stresses that had built up.

Me out in the sunshine, with wildflowers in my Uckfield garden.
As I listened to the buzzing bees and grasses swishing in the wind, I spotted a number of butterflies and wondered vaguely why I hadn't seen any in Birmingham. There's certainly no shortage of flowers for them to visit.

Tuesday, 30th June

Tuesday saw my last run up to Birmingham for a while. I met a few human and animal acquaintances on the way up including the grey wagtails that I first saw a couple of weeks back. This time they were dipping in the River, in sight of the station platform.

One of a pair of grey wagtails dipping in the Uck.
I took a few moments at lunch time to check out the pond by our office. The coot was still defending its patch and the tufted duck had 7 little fuzzy ducklings.  Over the past couple of weeks, the white water lilies and yellow monkey flowers had started to bloom.

Tufted duck and ducklings
After work, a colleague and I went exploring. We found another house martin nest at the front of the hotel. It must have been there a while because the fledglings had left the nest and were lined up on the edge of the roof. On the way to the station, there are still plenty of flowers at the roadside.

Roadside roses.
We decided to have a look round the NEC park, and crossed the Pendigo lake using the boardwalk.  We expected to find a few ducks and maybe a coot or moorhen. However, 30 Days Wild had saved one of its biggest surprises until last. I was looking up at the house martins prospecting round the upper floors of the unfinished Resort World Hotel. I don't suppose they had much luck, the walls look too smooth for them. Then a flash of white. An impossibly elegant tern was swooping over the water, occasionally dipping for food.

Look carefully on the right of the photo to see the tern.
We spent time watching the tern and then moved on, passing the Crown Plaza, which was set up for a rather grand function. Within a few yards of the tables with their fancy floral arrangements, simple ox-eye daisies drew my eye to the Hilton Metropole on the other side of the lake.

Ox-eye daisies in the fading light.
A pair of ducks kept pace as we drifted along the footpath. After a few minutes, we decided that the Arden's restaurant was calling us, and turned back. As we returned along the boardwalk, an untidy, almost primeval, flurry of feathers announced the arrival of the heron, which settled into its lakeside home.

Not far from the roadside roses we passed earlier, I saw my first Birmingham butterfly, a meadow brown, settling on wayside flowers after a busy day fluttering around. Like my 30 days wild it had reached the end of its journey but will set out on a new one soon.