Surveys and interesting finds with Catch 22 crew

I arrived at Milton’s Hidden Seashore this morning just as the heat wave weather broke over Portsmouth. As I was setting up, I could hear thunderstorms rumbling out over the Solent and across to Hayling Island. I had a brief altercation with some hail stones but the weather cleared quickly by the time my group arrived. We have had a fresher and a breezier day as a result.

One of the best things about being Community Education Officer at Milton Locks is the variety of people I get to meet and work with. One week I’ll be working with a Brownie group or pre-school children and their families, the next I’ll be running a school visit or giving a talk at a community centre. No two days are the same, which makes the job endlessly fascinating, not to mention wonderfully fun. Today’s activity introduced me to some more new people.

This morning I met a small but awesome group of staff and students from Catch 22 in Portsmouth. Among it’s many areas of work, Catch 22 provides local young people with individual learning and training experience while enhancing employability skills. The group who visited Milton Locks today were finding and identifying invertebrates on the nature reserve, learning about sampling techniques and recording data and generally enjoying being outside and having a laugh.

I managed to take a few photos, some more successful than others. The group had a good giggle at me trying to take photos of moving things.

Catch 22 empty sweep net JP

A photo of a sweep net, taken a split-second after a butterfly was in it. Whoops!

We did capture a few interesting finds on camera. The following beautiful little animal is something I will always associate with Milton Locks in the summer.

Catch 22 marbled white JP

Marbled White Butterfly in a sweep net (after several attempts)

 

 

We were surrounded by butterflies, grasshoppers and crickets all morning. As well as the Marbled White, we saw Speckled Wood and Meadow Brown butterflies. We also had close up encounters with handsome Roesel’s Bush Crickets. One of the students was particularly taken by a banded snail we had spotted.

Catch 22 banded snail JP

Banded snail

We moved on to the shore as the tide began to ebb. The retreating water left behind a strandline full of the usual curiosities. Whilst looking at shore crabs, sandhoppers and a tiny sea gooseberry, another student found something very interesting and a bit gruesome. When we looked at the mystery object, we realised it was part of a dead Thornback Ray.

Catch 22 part of thornback ray crop JP

We can only speculate about what had happened to it on its journey to the strandline at Milton Locks but it was certainly a fascinating find and we won’t forget the smell of it in a hurry.

 

As you can no doubt tell, I really enjoyed the session this morning. Thanks Catch 22 guys for your enthusiasm, your sense of humour and your willingness to get stuck in.

Milton Locks captured on film

During the Milton’s Hidden Seashore project so far, I have become increasingly intrigued by the history and cultural heritage of our little nature reserve. Portsmouth is such a history-rich city and it has been fascinating to begin to peel back the layers of days gone by, unpicking stories, meeting local legends and imagining what the landscape must have looked like before our time. For me, Milton Locks has always held whispers of its previous incarnations, from a newly constructed but then quickly derelict sea lock,  to a thriving houseboat community with a strong cultural identity.

Milton Locks by Zena Henry

From the canal lock, looking back to towards Eastney Lake, by Zena Henry

 

Over the past few weeks particularly, we have begun in earnest to scratch at the surface of the history of this unique area.  Above all, it has been wonderful meeting people who are so eager to share their stories and memories. We have been working in partnership with Portsmouth Museum, who are currently exhibiting the work of Edward King, an extraordinary artist who lived in Portsmouth during the first half of the 20th Century and who I’ve discussed several times on this blog. We have also had expert input from Paul Gonella at Strong Island, who has been helping us piece together the jigsaw of Milton Locks past and present, and is producing a film, capturing some of the memories and narratives that have shaped the character of our little patch of wild in the heart of city.

Life on the Water's Edge

We are now all very excited to announce that there will be a preview of first version of the film, Life on the Water’s Edge at Portsmouth Museum on Saturday. Later in the summer, a final version of the film will be available online, as a resource for schools and community groups and will also hopefully make an appearance on the big screen in Portsmouth Guildhall Square. This is an exhilarating moment in the lifetime of a much-loved and occasionally overlooked nature reserve. I hope we can share it with as many Portsmouth people as possible. Details of the Museum screening can be found by clicking the Upcoming Events button on the blog.

Back to Milton Locks with a bang

I came back to work this week after some rare time away. I’ve had the following message from volunteer warden and Friend of Milton Locks, Martin Roberts about sightings while I was away.

‘Nice walk around the reserve this morning, bright sunshine, blue sky, gentle breeze coming over the rising tide. Not a lot of birdlife around, starlings, crows, blackbirds and black -headed gulls. Last week we watched a green woodpecker flying around, the first time we have seen one at Milton. There were a few butterflies fluttering around today and I managed to get a picture of this one in the dappled shade near the entrance, I think it’s a Speckled Wood but no doubt an expert will correct me if I’m wrong.’

Speckled wood by Martin RobertsMartin, you are absolutely right! Thank you for sharing.

Yesterday, (Thursday) we tried out a new idea for the Reserve. I was joined by professional archaeologist and Wildlife Trust volunteer, Peter Girdwood. Pete and I led a family event looking for archaeological evidence of the history of Milton Locks. It turned out to be a truly eye-opening morning with an impressive array of discoveries. These included parts of an old butler’s style sink, boat anchors, roof tiles and a large collection of pottery. Among our finds was this large, buried metal bucket.

Rusty bucket cropped by Jess Parsons

Pete told us that a lot of our finds were likely to be from the house boat community in the area during the mid 20th Century and also a nearby Victorian bottle dump. The archaeological discoveries and associated stories and mysteries really captured everyone’s imagination.

I will be back in the area tomorrow at the Milton Picnic on the Green so do come and find me for a chat. For information, my colleagues are working on a replacement for our broken interpretation board which will be coming soon!

 

More photos from a local wildlife fan and friend of the reserve

I’ve recently been given permission to share the work of another keen Milton wildlife photographer who has captured some extraordinary images in our relatively ordinary patch of green in Portsmouth. Thank you Sheila Mackie for letting us share your beautiful pictures.

 

Speckled Wood by Sheila Mackie

Speckled Wood butterfly by Sheila Mackie

Collared dove by Sheila Mackie

Collared Dove by Sheila Mackie

If you have wildlife sightings or photos of Milton Locks Nature Reserve that you would like us to share on this blog, please email me at Jess.Daish-Miller@hiwwt.org.uk . I don’t spend much of my work life at my desk, so please bear with me – it might take me a few days to post what you send.

More photos from last week’s adventures and another invitation

Katy Seaman, one of our education volunteers and local mum has sent me a couple of photos of last week’s Go Wild event to share on the Friends of Milton Locks blog. Her family are expertly demonstrating some of the activities that were on offer. Lots of the work I deliver at Milton Locks is aimed at building parents’ confidence to take their children outdoors to play. It looks as though Dad, Gregg, is enjoying himself just as much as the children. Hopefully this will inspire more people to get out there and spend time with nature as the weather becomes kinder.

Gregg and Eliza by Katy SeamanSeaman family at Go Wild Katy Seaman

Today is an entirely different kettle-o-fish. I’m at Portsmouth Museum preparing for our Memories of Milton Locks oral history session. Between 2 and 4:30pm this afternoon, we are inviting people to pop in and share tales and photographs of the past at Milton Locks. The event is linked to the extraordinary Edward King exhibition in the Museum and promises to be an interesting and nostalgic event. If you remember Milton Locks in days gone by, why not pop in and see us. It will be quite a novelty for me to be working inside a building. I’ll have to remember to use my ‘indoor voice’ as parents and teachers often call it.

 

 

Homes for cuddly toys and a worm with ‘legs’ make for another grand day out

I have just got back to my occasional perch at Portsmouth City Museum this afternoon and, as promised, here is quick summary of this morning’s adventures. The weather was kind to us for our Go Wild family event this morning and over 70 people signed in to get involved in family activities. Also many other passers-by stopped for a chat. We had a wide variety of activities on offer including bug hunting, beach art, scavenger hunting and making mini dens for fluffy cuddly toys. Here are some of the best mini dens and nests.

We did also come across lots of wildlife in the midst of our busyness. Goldfinches, Blackbirds, a Robin, a Wren and a lovely Chiff Chaff were all singing and chirruping away for most of the morning. A pair of swans flew over at about 11am and Black-Headed and Mediterranean Gulls were ever present in the sky above us.

Among our beach finds were the usual Shore crabs, Sandhoppers, Periwinkles and tiny Hydrobia snails. We also found a little Ragworm, pictured below, which is seldom seen during events, although relatively common in these parts. This caused some excitement and I first suspected that we had found a Ragworm when I overheard someone shout ‘The worm has legs!’. In fact, the leg-like structures on the worm are called parapodia and as well as helping the Ragworm to get around, they are used for respiration. ragworm JDM

Happy Easter everybody!

 

Stop in and say hello on Thursday

I will be down at Milton Locks again on Thursday morning this week (13th April) with lots of hands-on family activities. We are going to make a concerted effort to record lots of the species we come across, so watch this space on Thursday afternoon for a big sightings list and tales of an adventurous morning. Better still, pop in, say hello and grab a bug pot. Fingers crossed for the weather!

Minibeast hunting at Milton Locks

Minibeast hunting at Milton Locks