During the week my Mum had seen that a nature reserve near to her was holding an open weekend and suggested we go there today. Of course who am I to say no to visiting somewhere new, especially as it was a nature reserve I had nearly visited several years ago but hadn't as I thought it would be impossible for me to access by public transport. How wrong I am !! Not only is it just two bus rides away from my home town, it is also as I discovered today, a hidden little gem of a place.
So this is my little account of my first visit to Maple Lodge NR....
Mum drove there today and as we came up to the road that turned down towards the nature reserve we were pleasantly surprised to see a bus stop very close by. The bus that stops there carries on to Uxbridge and Heathrow, a huge bonus for myself who lives in Hayes.
By road it is also incredibly easy to find, as the map below shows...
The reserve even has it's own website and Facebook pages (links here:- Maple Lodge NR website and Maple Lodge Facebook Page).
There is a very reasonable annual membership fee (for Mum and I as a 'family membership', we paid £23) and I know some of my regular blog readers will argue why should they pay to visit a nature reserve when others are free to visit, well this one has the best idea ever. To be accepted as a member you have to be taken on a guided tour before you can join.
Once that is done, and you have understood the rules and regulations (eg: stick to the paths, don't pick the plants, fungi or flowers, don't light fires etc etc) you are asked to complete a form and then you receive a little card with an access code on it.
Yes, the reserve is closed to the general public, so that means no little oiks can get on there to vandalise the place or have barbeques or play football. Anybody under the age of 18 must be escorted by an adult. No cycling, fishing, shooting, boating or bathing is allowed, and the only dogs allowed are registered guide dogs. This may not suit some of my fellow nature lovers, but for me this just might be a little bit of Heaven. Don't get me wrong, at my local patch, Cranford CP, I'm on friendly terms with all of the regular dogs and their walkers, but at Cranford CP we also get the more unsavoury characters like the ones that burnt down the parks only toilets and Information Centre and the ones often caught 'in the act' in some of the bushes and woods. At Maple Lodge I know I'm going to feel safe and comfortable, and that anybody else I bump in to there will be as nature loving as myself.
So, back to the reserve. There are eight little hides, a Club House, a plantation, wildlife meadow and two large lakes. The main paths and three of the hides are wheelchair friendly. The map below has been taken from the handy little booklet I got today....
Maple Lodge works closely with it's neighbour, Thames Water, to protect and enhance the wildlife value of this wonderful little reserve. I say 'little' but the site actually covers 40 acres of lakes, marsh, woodland and hedgerow.....
Photograph-wise today I didn't do my usual habit of sitting around for hours waiting for something exciting to happen so I could capture it on camera. I was on a guided tour so just grabbed snaps here and there. One of the interesting things pointed out on todays tour was this puddingstone.....
This is a Hertfordshire Puddingstone. They are quite rare to find above water, and the only other place to see one is in St Albans. A Puddingstone is normally found on the bed of a river. It may look like a lump of concrete but it's actually a rock made from flint pebbles that have been locked in to silica through a natural cementation process.
Other little natural beauties found today was this natural wild planting in a hollow of an old tree that has fallen to rest in the 'Everglades' area of the reserve...
Of course at this time of year you expect to find several wild flowers.....
|Bugle - Ajuga reptans|
|Cowslip - Primula veris|
|Native bluebell - Hyacinthoides non-scripta|
There were also flowering Red Campion, Daisys, Dandelions, Cow Parsley and wild garlic.
Naturally there were a few butterflies around too....
Also seen but not photographed were male and female Orange-tip, Green-veined White and Holly Blue. There were other little critters around too.....
|Sailor Beetle - Cantharis rustica|
|Red-headed Cardinal Beetle - Pyrochroa serraticotais|
There was also a rarer Black-headed Cardinal Beetle but I didn't manage to grab a photo of it.
Bird-wise we heard Swifts, Blackcaps, Sedge and Reed Warblers, the other usual woodland birds like Blue, Great and Long-tailed Tits and caught two glimpses of a flying Kingfisher.
We also saw....
|Great Crested Grebe|
|an unusually marked Canada Goose|
|a Red Kite fly over|
|Canada Goose on a nest|
|House Martins flying over|
|one of the three Tern Rafts currently occupied by Black-headed Gulls|
The below pair of Black-headed Gulls have taken over an already used Great Crested Grebes nest. The GCGs had succesfuly hatched one chick and had left the nest, so this opportunist pair decided to move in.....
and the site obviously suited them as they 'got jiggy with it' whilst we watched from the hide.....
After a very enjoyable hour long guided tour we headed back stopping off to look at the results of the mornings pond dipping at the stalls arranged just before the club house....
|Dragonfly larvae - Hawker species|
|Great Diving Beetle larvae|
|juvenile Smooth Newt|
|male Grass Snake|
Mum was happy, there was a garden plant stall there too and we both joined up at the membership stall. On our way out we had a nice refreshing cuppa each, admired the photos and participated in the 'guess the number of Jackdaws' competition at the club house.
I could have happily gone around the reserve again but we had a lunch date in Harefield.
My next visit will be with me armed with a flask and sandwiches and a full day to kill, and probably not with my Mum in tow. I have all the patience required when watching nature and can happily sit for hours in the same place observing everything around me, but Mum is more active and sociable and would rather walk around the reserve chatting to everyone she meets.
Good job we got a membership with individual cards then.
The reserve is open again tomorrow (10th May) for the second day of the Open Weekend from 11am-5pm, with the last guided tour being conducted at 4pm. Please note however that if you are planning to visit, some of the displays on the pond dipping stall may change as all exhibits were being released back to where they came from this later this afternoon.