Winter wanderings and a big thank you or two

I went for a quick stroll down at dear old Milton Locks yesterday on my way to run some errands. As promised here is a photo of the newly positioned entrance sign and also a beautiful blackboard sign produced by my artistic colleague, Emma.

I wandered on down onto the reserve itself, which was looking beautiful in the thin, wintery light. The north wind stung my face, which after a morning in office, isn’t as unpleasant as it sounds. The tide was low and various waders and Brent Geese were busily rummaging in the mud. If you get the chance, and you need a break from the madness of the festive season, why not pop down and absorb the sights and sounds of the winter wildlife. A thriving community of plants and animals are quietly (sometimes noisily) living, unnoticed, metres from our houses, schools and businesses. Personally, I rely on peaceful, wild moments like these to see me through the mayhem of life in our urban corner of the world.

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My visit wasn’t long as darkness was creeping in and a long list of other jobs calling me.

As we are fast approaching the end of another year, I felt it would be a good moment to say a big thank you to everyone who has been involved in the Milton’s Hidden Seashore project across 2017. It has been a wonderful and slightly exhausting year. This year alone, I have met over 2600 people either at Milton locks Nature Reserve or at other events across the city.

I’ve seen 641 children on formal education visits (through their school or home education group) and a staggering 877 adults through outreach visits such as talks or information stands. We also made 43 new, tiny, friends through our fledgling Wildlife Tots programme.

Thank you to all of you, whether you have volunteered, turned up at an event, picked up a bit of litter or stopped to chat to me at the reserve when I’ve been setting up for something in the teeth of a gale.

Financially, the project is being made possible by the Heritage Lottery Fund. Since January 2016, we’ve had a whale of a time creating a sense of excitement and pride in the nature reserve and in the surrounding community. I’d like to say a huge thank you to everyone who buys a lottery ticket. You are helping Milton’s Hidden Seashore, and all kinds of other awesome projects across the country, to enrich the lives of so many people. More information about lottery funded projects at the Trust and special events happening this weekend, can be found at http://www.hiwwt.org.uk/HLF-thank-you

Seasons greetings everyone and see you in 2018.

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Robin by Jim Craise

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Rain or shine, there’s fun to be had

I write this post, sitting at home, wrapped around a cup of tea, gently thawing and slowly drying out. After years of trying, this autumn we have managed to extend the outdoor learning ‘season’ beyond the October half term. Of course it is perfectly possible to learn and play on a nature reserve at any time of year, but the challenge has been convincing people that they want to come along to outdoor events or workshops in November. This week I have been down at the marvellous Milton Locks three times. Once for November Wildlife Tots , once for a meeting and again this morning to work with a group of child-minders. As I drove back this afternoon, I was keen to sit down and share some photos and some tales from the seashore.

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Murky Milton Locks

On Thursday, we had a very well attended Wildlife Tots session. The aim of these sessions is to provide outdoor play opportunities for under 5’s, their parents and/or carers. As we were setting up, the volunteers and I suddenly noticed that we had some nosey visitors by the tarpaulin.

 

A family of mute swans were quietly rummaging through our bags of equipment, probably looking for food. We didn’t have any food, but we did have a lot of very small children about to arrive, so I gently herded the handsome family back towards the sea. We often take our swans for granted in this part of the country. However, they are impressively large and beautiful birds up close. They can also be a little bit scary when they want to be. Swans are also a good analogy for the way I sometimes feel before an event or a school visit; calm and collected on the surface and paddling furiously underneath.

The swans left and the families arrived. Paddling in wellies, mud pie making, story reading and general exploring were all on the agenda. The weather was kind to us and we even glimpsed the sun for a few minutes.

Weather wise, today was a different story. It was forecast to rain at about 12noon which would have given us two dry hours of the three planned for our workshop. Unfortunately, it started raining at 8am. My chief volunteer (also known as my very forbearing husband) came along first thing to help me set up and I bumped into several of our friendly dog walkers as I was preparing. The child-minders were coming to Milton Locks for a workshop designed to build their confidence to take their children outdoors. The seven ladies who attended were very keen to try things out, share ideas and join in with a bit of silliness. Who needs sunshine when you have friendly, inspiring people to hang out with.

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One of the activities I often run with adults who work with children is to give each team, of two or three, a hula hoop. The teams’ challenge is to make a picture in the hoop and for everyone to guess what the picture is of. These are the three picture from this morning. I’ll leave you to guess what they are. Feel free to share your answers via the comments button.

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The outdoor part of the morning, unsurprisingly, finished earlier than expected and we retreated to the Thatched House pub for coffee and a conversation about play styles and useful ideas.

If you would like to find out more about Wildlife Tots, click on the Upcoming Events button above to see information about dates in the future.

Is it really November? Thoughts and images from warden, Martin.

171102 Milton Locks by Martin Roberts

I came into the office this morning to find an email and beautiful images from one of our most active Friends of Milton Locks, warden volunteer Martin. Martin and his wife Carole (from the A-team, see below) pop into the reserve once a week to collect any litter and keep an eye on things. Here is what Martin had to say.

We live over the hill and awoke today to a foggy morning but we thought we’d still do our regular visit to Milton Locks. What a good decision, we arrived to blue skies, bright sunshine and with little breeze barely a ripple on the lake. It was just about high tide so as we walked down the path we could see a Little Egret right up on the beach and it stayed around so I could get some shots of it, I do like their yellow feet.

171102 little egret by Martin RobertsThe reserve was looking excellent in the autumnal sunshine. Out on the lake and round into the harbour there were many hundreds of recently returned Brent Geese swimming around quietly calling to each other. Quite a sight, and sound, when something spooked them and they all took off but they returned very quickly.

171102 Brent Geese by Martin RobertsAs we sat on a bench in the warm sunshine drinking our coffee from the local shop and looking out over the harbour we thought “is this really November?”. Yes and a joy to be out.171102 high tide by Martin Roberts

Thank you very much Martin. If you would like to find out about wardening or volunteering in another way, please do get in touch.

 

 

 

 

Amazing invertebrates, new friends and Wildlife Tots

This week I was delighted to receive some wonderful photos from Stuart Ball, a local entomologist (insect expert) and friend of Milton Locks. They are extraordinary shots and I have been eagerly awaiting a moment to sit down and share them with you.

broad-nosed weevil, Hypera sp. possibly

Broad-nosed Weevil by Stuart Ball

hoverfly Volucella zonaria, female

Hoverfly by Stuart Ball

Wasp spider, Argiope bruennichi, female

Wasp Spider by Stuart Ball

Stuart took these photos at our Friends of Milton Locks event last week. This particular spider is becoming a bit of a celebrity as Jim Craise also sent me another lovely photo of the very same animal.

Wasp spiders are fascinating creatures. This is the strikingly beautiful female. She uses her intricate web to catch grassland insects. The zigzag pattern on the web is designed to reflect UV light in order to attract prey. We’re very lucky to have such magnificent images to share with everyone. Thank you Stuart and Jim.

Jim Craise Wasp spider

Wasp Spider by Jim Craise

The events at Beddow Library and at the Reverse last week went very well and, as well as making new friends, we met some familiar faces. There were lots of families at the library, with children doing their summer reading challenge. I spent some time chatting to a little girl from Meon Infant School, who I had met on a school trip at the end of last term. She initially seemed at little confused and she asked me ‘Are you allowed to go to other places then?’. Often young children assume that I spend 24 hours a day, 7 days a week at Milton Locks and she was clearly worried that I’d escaped. She then went on to tell me all about the activities we had done back in July.

Next Thursday, I’ll be running another Wildlife Tots session for pre-school children and their parents and carers. If you or someone you know would like to come along, check out the details on the Upcoming Events section of the blog and call or email to book you place.

Sightings and lovely photo from Martin

Our volunteer wardens, Carole and Martin were out on the nature reserve this morning and Martin sent me an email about their encounters. Here’s what he had to say.

What a difference a day makes. After the rain all day yesterday the sun appeared today so we ventured out for our walk around Milton Locks.

There were a few butterflies flitting around, Large White, Meadow Brown, Gatekeeper and I think the picture I took is a Common Blue but I’ve no idea what the flower is. There was a very large flock of noisy starlings in the bushes and a smaller flock of house sparrows tweeting in a bramble bush which was covered in ripe blackberries. A number of swallows were swooping round in circles just over our head. Out on Eastney Lake were a lot of Black Headed Gulls, a few Oyster Catchers, a Curlew and a Little Egret. There were a number of Crows foraging in the seaweed on the shoreline and one was demonstrating their classic way of eating shell fish, carry it up high then drop on a hard surface, repeat until it breaks open, eat contents before gulls arrive then go and find another one. You have to admire their persistence. Not bad for a 30 minute stroll around the reserve whilst we were picking up litter.

Thank you for sharing Martin.

common blue by Martin Roberts

 

 

 

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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.