The sun was going down one quiet evening Someone came into my mind while I was half asleep .
It is a beautiful summer evening. Cooling now but still18*C in the softening sunlight. Light fluffy clouds, drifting gently eastwards in a relaxed breeze. I have come in down Woodside, parking right at the bottom tucked in beside a laurel hedge, skirted with bramble and grass where several Gatekeepers are still on the wing. There are others along the bridleway too, and a handful of Meadow Browns. A Magpie chatters, a Wren scolds and there is a Pheasant coughing by the substation in the Top Field. Overhead, a steady passage of corvids – Rooks and Jackdaws – and a distant Fox. That typical high-pitched yelp of a vixen, perhaps calling to cubs? Picking my way through the nettles and brambles either side of the path is not easy; the bridleway in places is a twisted pickle of vegetation. Seems it is walked less this summer than last. Heading straight towards me like some kind of guided missile, a male Blackbird rotates in flight, banking at the last minute up over the hedge. Close enough for me to duck. He has a particularly red bill and seems to be carrying a particularly large grub. Two Linnets pass in the opposite direction, and around my feet two Speckled Woods dance in an open spot as clouds gather and now cover the dipping sun. At The Roughs, two Ravens head to roost somewhere to the North… and as I work my way back, there is a passing of Pied Wagtails. 8 birds, maybe 12 (and probably more) no doubt on their way to the historical roost site at Southampton Airport a few miles West.
I have come to walk in the Wood this evening for no reason other than she is beautiful. Blackbirds sing, coming to the end of their season. Harmonics, three or four birds either side of me. The Wood is cool, refreshing, still and calm. She smells of mud and rain. Fresh and showered. Her soft colours draw in what remains of the evening light, reflecting the tranquillity and peace of the setting sun. Absorbing. Breathing in, drawing her creatures to her. I feel it, bathed and wrapped. Enrapted. Walking slowly up to the top. Stock Dove sentinels. Finches. Large? Now calling – two juvenile (yellowish) Crossbills! Of course in the golden evening light, colours play tricks. The have come over my head in to the West Wood. There are young Chiffchaffs calling all round in the bracken as the do this time of year. It is half an hour from sunset time. Chuntering Squirrels in the trees. Circling Siskins now, at least four. Light infantry fire too from Blackbirds under cover on all sides. Rowan berries turning from yellow to orange
Stonechats west of the birchline, fluttering click-clacking. A Jay Squawks and here and there the high thin whistle of Song Thrushes. A Great Spotted Woodpecker kicks back. I am seeing little, but the still air lifts the sound of many birds.
I have done a circuit down the Crossing, seeing three Roe Deer on the way, and come back now round and down to the gorse gap. This has been widened recently by contactors vehicles. Not what we talked about…? Conditions this evening could not be more perfect for what follows – one of the best Nightjar experiences I have had here, and there have been many. I am blessed. An unusual time of year for me to be here perhaps, but one to which I will return.
At 2115, a male starts churring out in the middle and within 15 minutes there are at least four birds in the air. Chasing, calling, displaying. two more at the top end, beside the track. Coming over to check me out it seems, cooing, clucking. Lots of wing-clapping and parachuting displays. At one point, they become impossible to count and I am confident that I am watching six, which will of course include several young birds. I am spinning as they duck and twist, this way, that way. One perches up close, circles me, lands. Balletic, hovering. Two males together, super fast chasing and all around are calls. Both the familiar “quip quip” , which I notice is a different pitch in some birds? But also a whole variety of chuckles and ticks. Another bird comes in, much higher, from over the trees at the West end. A male I presume, but it is hard to tell. He is very vocal, but calling more like a bird of prey than a Nightjar. Kick, kick, Click click. Chack chack? Perhaps this is an alarm call, in the presence of recently fledged young. I am standing where the tracks join, in shadow, watching the spectacle on the clearfell ahead and all around. Perhaps my presence is disturbing them? I hope not, but back away, breathless and lifted. What a joy these birds are. And as I descend, in half-darkness now, to Marshalls Row, another male Nightjar starts churring very close to me. He is clearly up in one of the pines here. It is brief, but by the time I get to the back he is going well, now to my right in the plantation of firs. I have not been convinced there is a territory here before as the trees seem too mature now, and only the recent clearing along the stream provides any space. I cannot help but walk right past him along the bottom, and he is calling now, circling. Very loud, very demonstrative. There’s a female up with him and they are gliding round in circles, like a pair of Sparrowhawks. Maybe they behave differently according to the habitat they occupy? Certainly this pair are in woodland. I can hear them still as I come out onto the footpath where the rabbits are. In the gloaming, the end of twilight, I a moving shape is still visible on the edge of the field. Another Nightjar…! I remember four years ago there was a male churring at The Roughs, but I haven’t seen one out there over the grass before. Magical.
I noted this evening too, while the Nightjars were dancing, that Stonechats were still calling – very late into the evening. I leave lifted, humbled and delighted by the amazing creatures. It is immensely satisfying to have a male Tawny Owl hooting his own approval on the lane back up tot the car.
Very warm and sunny 29*C, virtually no breeze in the Wood.Cloud cover slowly building from the West
14:45 – 16:30
Week 17 (Day 1, Thursday)
A session with my two youngest daughters this afternoon, keen to see some of the butterflies I counted last week. Despite ideal conditions, it turned out rather disappointing for them in that respect. Simply, for all sorts of reasons that I don’t quite understand, it was MUCH quieter today…?
Ringlet 2 Gatekeeper 4 Small Skipper 2 Large White 1 PEACOCK 1 – freshly emerged. Not recorded last week Meadow Brown 3
Neither of the girls was keen to walk down Section 2, the wayleave, which is virtually impassable with bracken and brambles
Meadow Brown 1 SPECKLED WOOD 1. Also not recorded last week
There has been lots of activity at the Bee colony, much larger insects making bore holes. But virtually nothing to see apart from Tiger Beetles
It is becoming stuffy and overcast, making us feel as lethargic as the trees
Ringlet 2 Gatekeeper 4 Green-veined White 1 Meadow Brown 2
Another small white at the top, probably Green-veined but hard to get on to properly. And a couple more Gatekeepers which Elsie in particular has a good eye for. My attention is distracted form butterflies by families of both Chaffinch and Blue Tit in ‘Chilworth Corner’ and while watching these I got brief and obscured views of (probably) two Spotted Flycatchers. One bird flew directly away form me towards the birch line, and the other – calling – stayed hidden in the back of a yew tree. Once we got round to the birchline, the bird was nowhere to be seen. Two juvenile Stonechat on the way down towards it though. Very nice.
Rowan trees are full of berries, turning orange already.
Sparrowhawk breast feather here on the path…
Section 3 16:00
A flurry of Skippers at the top of the crossing, but no net and no good views to determine species.
Small / Essex Skipper 6 Small White 1 Meadow Brown 2 Ringlet 1
We finish our walk with a walk along Upper Velmore to the wayleave, the second half of Section 2. Here are a dozen Meadow Browns at the Velmore Crossing. One each Ringlet and Gatekeeper and another couple of ‘small’ Whites.
The highlight of this walk came at the top end of Larpers as we took what the girls call “the shortcut” out of the sun back to the car. A new fungus species for the Wood in the form of these two amanita
Grey-Spotted Amanita (Amanita excelsa)
Note from Southampton Natural History Society:
I can't see much of the stem on the fungi but more likely to be Grey-spotted Amanita, more common than Panthercap and more likely to be seen this early in the season. I think I can see the long hanging ring and this would prove Grey-spotted Amanita. Supposed to be edible but not worth the risk as Panthercap is very dangerous.
Bright, sunny and warm after intense rain and overcast conditions for three days. Breezy at first, F3 NW, becoming calm. Passing, light clouds
14:00 – 18:00
Week 16 (Day 1, Thursday)
Dare I say this feels more like it…? The weather is forecast dry for at least a week, with skies clearing and temperatures rising. This afternoon it is glorious, perfect for butterflies after the recent rain, and the clear fresh air is refreshing, warm but not (yet) hot under a cheerful and welcoming afternoon midsummer sun.
Among the grasses along the top of the track, more flowers than I have seen before are scattered and gathering: Herb Robert, Great willowherb, buddleia; pink and white clover, Tormentil, yellow pimpernel, buttercups; thistles, knapweed and Self-heal. The “introduced” Goat’s Rue looks especially colourful, swaying in the surprisingly brisk breeze and busy with flies and small bees. The verges, especially on the left side of the track around the east clearfell are attracting butterflies. Between the start of Section1, past the gravelled turning area and before the wayleave there are Meadow Browns in double figures, a half dozen Small Skippers, at least two Ringlets, one Large White and, down among the brambles and ivy, the first Gatekeeper of the season
The bracken and thistles are head high cutting off the track down into Q1, and many of the grasses well above the knee, The upper part of the path is overgrown and difficult to push through, into the shorter more open area beyond. All around in the tree clumps are Siskins, including a fine singing male. Great Spotted Woodpecker and the young squeaky Buzzard. Nuthatch and Chaffinch calling. But its the flying insects today, and especially here, that take centre stage. I do love how different parts of the Wood take on different significance as the seasons, weather and time shift on their ever-changing choreographed dance through the year. I can hear the two Emperor Dragonflies whirring as they whizz up and down between the Meadow Browns and Skippers, grasshoppers, crickets and beetles. Today I have my net, and take one Small Skipper in for a closer look. As I do so, a Common Blue Damselfly (Enallagma cyathigerum) alights on the net’s handle, and a male Broad-Bodied Chaser dives through the gorse on his way to the pond. There are two Marbled Whites out as well, and a glowing bright yellow Brimstone to the right as I pick my way through to the pond. More chasers here, two males and a female, and what I can only assume is the same damselfly. Just the one, circling the edge of the pond, occasionally resting on grass stems. Britain’s most abundant damselfly, but very unusual here. The pond is starting to make a difference.
I continue now past the pond, where the ground is wet after recent rain, and out again onto the track. Here too, surface puddles and sticky mud make passage difficult. Unless you can fly. Brimstone again, presumably the same one. Skippers, a couple more Ringlets and a distant “white” crosses ahead of me into the wayleave. There are bird footprints in the wet sand – crows, magpies, blackbirds. And deer.
The bracken re-growth in the area I am “clearing” is disheartening. It grows so fast, and feels very difficult to keep up with. I am unarmed today, and even less inclined… There is a Common Lizard though, scuttling away through the towering stalks.
Large Skippers. Two. A couple more Ringlets, several Small Skippers and, fluttering along on the left side, keeping close to the tree line, this afternoon’s first White Admiral. Briefly resting, wings open, on some ivy 3 metres up on the trunk of a larch. Suddenly, the silence is shattered by the harsh cackle of a Green Woodpecker, and AT LAST I managed to be in the right place at the right time to see this one. A juvenile, very brown, calling in flight as it took off from the bracken cleared area I had just passed! I curse myself for not seeing it seconds earlier. But how come it didn’t fly at that point? Swooping flight, bandit expression with black facemask and dagger bill. Up and over somewhere towards Lower Velmore. Small White, Meadow Brown. Bullfinch.
It feels good here today. I am at ease and conditions are perfect. There is an atmosphere of calm, and I am walking without much purpose or direction. I have a route in my head so its not exactly ‘free’, but the connection is restored and the “inscape” has a strong presence. Now the Woodpecker has gone, the only sound is the gentle rustle of leaves in the treetops and occasional cheeps and twitters of hidden birds. The light is cool along Upper Velmore, dappled and filtered. Lookign up, the sky above is perfect blue and the clouds white. I can see no birds, excepting a few pigeons, until a Hobby chooses that moment to fly across. Gliding, smooth and not far above tree height. Soundless, effortless. This is the birders’ sixth sense thing again – how on earth did I choose that moment to look up? And how often have birds like this passed behind me, or just round the wrong corner?
And for the second time, a small White butterfly skitters across at the end of the crossing in a pool of light, passing left to right ahead of me. Feels not unlike the White Rabbit in Wonderland. Calling, showing. Beckoning me ahead. As I step too into the brightness, among a wide ring of litter discarded by the MotoX bikers, something moves on the ground immediately to my right. There follows an encounter with a White Admiral that is up there among my best in the Wood. A period of time that may have been ten minutes, an hour, several hours. I found myself lost in a Never Moment that involved no awareness of anything other than me and this charming insect. On my arrival, it took off from the sandy track and circled low, within a foot of the ground, coming down in a couple of other places, but always returning to where it started. It has found a small piece of dog poo, and is behaving as if drunk. Feeding, fluttering, rising. Landing within a few inches of its food source and walking back to probe it further. I am sitting, taking a drink and some fruit, in the middle of the track, watching the butterfly flitting around. It comes over, within inches, flying around me several times and resuming its wider circuit. I can’t resist photographing it, but I prefer to watch, to absorb and just to connect with a very special time
It’s a challenge to disturb this reverie and proves harder to get up from the ground than it really should. Moving slowly up Section 3, the crossing, where the sun has now passed sufficiently west to cast tree shadows, So most of the butterflies are on the sunny side, the east: again Meadow Browns, Ringlets, two more Gatekeepers, Large White and TWO more White Admirals. One again on ivy, and another that settles ona beech leave quite high up. But the highlight here are the Skippers, and with my net I pick up two from a flowering briar. One Small Skipper, and one ESSEX SKIPPER – and distinctly different when together! The ink-dipped antennae tips of the latter stand out, and on this one – a male – the alignment of the scent brands are noticeable different. The Essex, whose mark is less distinct, runs “down” the wing, kind of parallel to the leading edge. The (darker orange) Small Skipper bears a scent brand that is clearer and runs more “across” the wing. I need different (better?) binoculars for close focus, but several of these insects allow me right up close as they feet, and along the top of end of the section I think there are at least two more Essex Skippers.
My phone has died now, so I can’t take pictures of these, but I will soon so I can really get to grips with the differences. That’s 11 species of butterfly now – my personal best here is 12 in one afternoon
It is really quite hot again now, but much less stuffy than of late. Half a dozen Meadow Browns, Ringlet and Gategeeper along Section 4, and I become aware of voices as I pass the gorse gap. There is a sign to my left too, advising of “chemical spraying”. Contractors in, spot-spraying again to help the new trees. Polite nod and an exchange of pleasantries. Friendly “Cocker-poo”.
At the top of Section 5, along which I see surprisingly only a couple of small Skippers, there is a thin but familiar song coming from a large holly. Apart from this Firecrest, I have heard only Blackcaps this afternoon. 6 or 8 males on territory around this circuit. It’s good to hear one again – unusual this early in summer.
20 minutes up at the sitting spot is more than enough in full sun, mid afternoon in mid-summer. Randomly a wisp of around 50 Jackdaws came over, calling loudly, moving like smoke. And pigeons. Mixed Woodies and Stock Doves, in small goups of up to a dozen, moving steadily left to right. From the farmland, over the Wood and down to…? Lords Wood, Chilworth? Various Feral Pigeons among them, including two white doves. No raptors, no gulls. Local finches moving between the clumps. Stonechat singing and calling, but out of sight down the bottom.
In the south-west corner, Chilworth Corner (?) a movement in asilver birch catches my eye. One of the Spotted Flycatchers is here! They – presumably the male – do seem to roam around a lot so tying down the nest site is not proving easy. They should fledge very soon…? But he doesn’t want to be seen, and flies away form me towards the birch line and is not there by the time I arrive. There is a White Admiral though, on the right. Is that five now? An exceptional afternoon. Even better for the addition of a smart, fresh Green-veined White feeding among the grasses by the west stream. Another Brimstone flies past too, fast and purposeful. The wind is here now, swirling invisible. The large beech, perhaps my favourite tree in the Wood, is “dancing”. Arms swaying, waving, feet fixed to the spot. Lost in the hypnotic trance of Spiritualised or Orbital, fingers weaving. I’m inclined to join in for a few repeated bars…
Time check suggests it is 16:40 as I arrive at the top of The Crossing, going towards Larpers Wood and the alders. I think it must be around here, perhaps a little further on where SC picked up that Fritillary last week? Just. Like. That! And there it is – a Silver-washed Fritillary, assuming its the same one. Amazing, but flying fast and not inclined to settle. It comes up between the trees and the track on the right, over bracken and bramble. A few flits and hovers, making sure I get a chance to see it, identify and get excited, and then its gone. But off to the south of the Oak Plantation, not into the Wood where I might have expected it to go. There’s no way in here, other than to go back up to the crossing. Agh! Frustrating. Only my second Silver-washed here, and both have been quick flight views of one going past. Next time…
Now, down at the alders, two briars in particular are busy with insect life. Large White, and two Ringlets dancing chasing and mating! Another Gatekeeper quietly among the Meadow Browns. And White Admiral number 6. I was looking at the bramble flowers and didnt see this one at first, grounded at the side of the track, and it took of as I approached without due care. Typically low, not more than a foot above the ground. Showing superbly, and landing itself to feed on a bramble flower opposite. Coming down the slope on South Drive straight towards me, a Marbled White. The first one I have seen in the Wood away from the grasses in Q1 on the east clearfell. Now I am more alert to butterflies on the track seeking minerals – hence my next tick for the day, a fine Red Admiral which moves off to feed around the overgrown conduit. Fourteen species. Wow, and over 100 individuals which is completely unprecedented.
And it’s not done yet. I cut from the top of the gravelled drive into Larpers Lane, seeking shade, filtered sunlight, stillness – and more WHite Admirals. Also aware that it was at the Beech in the summer of 2019, two years ago, that I last met the previous Silver-washed Fritillary. There is a different calmness here. Tranquility and aged, mature unflustered serenity.
And no butterflies…!
The first White Admiral at the crossing with Upper Velmore is gone by the time I get back here, but it could easily be the same one that is now moving along the broad, hopping up the ivy. Same behaviour as the one in Section 2 earlier. But that’s all speculative. Seven individuals is a fabulius count. At Butterfly Corner, there are Meadow Browns, Skippers and anothe rRinglet. It is really overgrown here in Q1 now, and I don’t often come this direction. Looks amazing – damp and cool. Full of bees and flies. An Emperor Dragonfly. And another bright orange butterfly on a nettle. There are not many patchs of nettles in the Wood. At first I have a notion that its another Fritillary, but this one stays still and is actaully a Comma.Freshly emerged, and positively glowing.
There are countless other bugs here too, but this catches my eye in particular.
A Dock Bug(Coreus marginatus)
And there is something else too. Four-banded Longhorn Beetle(Leptura quadrifasciata)
But that’s not what I meant. My eye is drawn to a small butterlfy, no bigger than a Blue, going up the face of a birch tree and across to a withy willow. I cant get my bins on it, but it looks and feels “different” somehow. Rather like it might be some species of hairstreak…?
Another one for next time.
Back among the Siskins, and the male bird is still singing heartily. The squeaky Buzzard is still calling – I wonder if that has fledged?
Then, yapping. A calling Hobby, which I still can’t see. They ARE here somewhere. This is over (or in?) Larpers Wood, perhaps around the court area. It screams again, instantly recognisable but of course I can’t see it.
Parked at the Chilworth Arms and walking in via Woodside. It is nothing. Some of the gardens look really good now, full of flowers and small bees, though I can see no butterflies and birds are quiet. A scolding Magpie on a rooftop; a tired Robin scrabbling in leaf litter to feed a family nearby; and a couple of indignant male Blackbirds. There is a Chiffchaff behind the houses, singing throughout my descent, from the back of Marshalls somewhere
In the last few days, there has been an explosion of Meadow Browns. From the crossing between footpath and bridleway, in the fields on both sides, its hard to count hem as they dance around the long grasses and thistles. 30 easily, maybe 50 between here and The Pylons, though they are concentrated at the Wood end. Among them, and exclusively on thistle tops, at least four fabulous Marbled Whites, which I have not recorded here before. Purple Vetch coming in to flower
Scanning the fields, where a roe deer hind and her young are grazing in the open down by the stream. I can hear two Skylarks, and a a strange thrush call. Noted as a “passable impression of an Oystercatcher!” Lazy Crows, and a few more Chiffchaffs. Two Goldfinches jangle in, and nearby a Greenfinch wheezes heavily as if he too is struggling with hay fever. I had not seen the Buzzard on the ground in the long grass, only as he swoops up to sit in a tree among the hawthorn.
Other butterflies on the briars along the bridleway include 3-4 Small Skippers, 2 Small Whites, 1 Large White and a single Red Admiral. The Whitethroat is not singing, but I pick him up in cover thanks to loud, persistent calls. I think there are two, but the female is hard to see and stays hidden. Her partner is clumsy, and crashes around before zipping out of sight into the gorse.
An hour passes, during which I enjoy long-range views of a couple of Stonechats in the clearfell and otherwise just the peace and tranquillity of the Wood. The air is heavy and thick though, and again my circuit feels like hard work. At the top of the Crossing, noting Nuthatches and a Great Spotted Woodpecker, a Skimmer catches my eye, grounding on a particularly white flintstone. Its flighty, and grey rather than blue, looking slim. I am inclined (again) to note this down as a Keeled Skimmer
Generally though I am not connecting today, and lack enthusiasm. This hot humid dullness is probably my least favourite weather. I project my sulky mood onto the Wood, which I now feel is unfair.
At 17:10, trudging up the steep road back to the car, I am awakened by two Red Admirals grounding together, then dancing and spiralling up in to the tall trees on the right hand side.
Sunny spells, mostly bright and warm 21*C. Light F2 SSW
Grasses, briars and trees in full leaf. Seeds forming on the Gorse. Goats Rue coming in to flower, next to the Buddleia up at the east end. Both pink (Trifolium pratense) and white clover (T. repens). Opposite, a spread of purple ‘Selfheal’ (Prunella vulgaris) that I haven’t previously identified
And with this summer growth, an emergence of some grassland butterflies and flying insects. As I pick my way through the bracken and check out refugia mats #1 and #2 (where there is a young Slow-worm under each), I notice lots of grasshoppers and crickets around my feet, clouds of tiny micro-moths, Two Chasers, both males, though one is smaller and less brightly coloured than the other. Keeled Skimmer perhaps? Three bright blue Emperor Dragonflies that won’t sit still anywhere, and among them one more approachable insect settles, typically hanging vertically, from a bracken. A beautifulGolden-ringed Dragonfly (Cordulegaster boltonii) – a species that I see here this time of year annually, but only one or two.
Meadow Brown butterfly (“lots”) – maybe ten? and below the buzzing bramble flowers on a grass, the season’s first Small Skipper (Thymelicus sylvestris). This one is a female I think, lacking any significant sex branding marks on the upperwing. There are five or six here, and a Small White.
Best of all, another first for the season and something I will only see once or twice during this short period – Marbled Whites. Two flying across the usual place among the grasses along the path towards the stream in Q1. Watching these, or at least trying to! I can hear Crossbills. I am convinced they have nested up in the Aviva Pines but they are proving very difficult to see… Green Woodpecker, Song Thrush, Blackbird. Robins, Wrens, Dunnock and more than a few Siskins. In fact, 8 – 10 birds moving around constantly. They have also clearly had a good breeding season.
Moving down Q2, spending another 45 mins bashing the bracken. I am pleased with the small area I have cleared. There are Slow-worms under mats #5 (two young and a lovely knot of three older individuals) and #8 (two tiny juveniles) and in the open area at Velmore crossing, a Common Lizard scuttles away towards Q3 which looks pretty much impassable now.
I am particularly pleased with this last picture that shows a phenomenom I have noticed over the last couple of weeks. A lot of new Hazel leaves are emerging purple rather than the more familiar soft yellowgreen. The purple colour is a pigment called anthocyanin, part of a group of chemicals called flavonoids released to block ultraviolet radiation. Plants that grown generally in relative lowlight situations (and thus undergoing physiological changes) can suddenly find themselves exposed to brighter light. The quickest way to then protect itself is to photosynthsize anthocyanins to block this excess light.
Walking slowly up the crossing now, habitually left to right in a diagonal movement up the slope, it is a little more breezy and cooler, but the sunlight filtered on tot he south facing side is quite beautiful. And here, in the most reliable spot for the species, comes a White Admiral, moving fast over the holly and hawthorn, skipping among the larches and ivy. Brilliant. Long-tailed tits squeaking on both sides of me (family groups). Bullfinches too, and a Buzzard over. Busy Nuthatches and a second Golden-ringed Dragonfly. I doubt its the same one – 400m away and in different habitat.
This is the best spell of weather now, and sheltered from the breeze. The clearfell sits under a lovely blue break in the thickening clouds, though it is looking especially dark away to the east. I am scanning the sky for hirundines, which still elude me this year) and raptors, but can see only one Buzzard. He is really high, so its impossible to identify as a local bird. Otherwise, just one other large bird moving purposefully west along the northern edge by the farmland – a rather incongruous adult Lesser Black-backed Gull. Four or five Meadow Browns.
In the corner, past the birch line, a bird flies across the track in to the Chilworth Pines. I am grateful to Steve Clemons for his superb photographs of the Spotted Flycatchers that have set up a territory here. Steve saw these birds the next day. We have both submitted notes as locally this is an excellent record. I am delighted to have found them. Hard to see today though, and the bird I saw didn’t sit still anywhere for long.
SC also recorded the first Ringlet of the season on his visit July 2nd, and even better a SILVER-WASHED FRITILLARY while walking up towards the gate on the south side of the Wood! Since I came here for this trip on the 1st I have been too busy preparing for my daughter’s wedding on Saturday 3rd to come back since, and of course the weather has been so variable that any time I have had has coincided with grey rain and stronger winds. But all fantastic records that I look forward to over the coming couple of weeks when I can hopefully get out more.
For now, this afternoon, I will settle for my superb Stonechats, very noisy and active out in the middle. It is very difficult to ascertain just how many are here now. My note book scribbles decipher as follows: 1 fem + 1 juv along stream line below high seat. 1 male singing here but not seen. All calling. Two juvs in the yews. Also juv Goldfinch and Greenfinch. Beyond here, to the west towards the stream 1x adult male. Same bird as singing earlier? One also drab and paler looking male? Two fledglings, spotted and still showing clear large gape. One female.
I feel confident the same pair have raised two broods – one of three young and a later brood of two.
Heavy summer stillness along The Broad where i have come to recover my tools. Blackbirds, Blackcaps and a singing Chaffinch. More Long-tailed Tits and another blue (Emperor?) Dragonfly.
A RED ADMIRAL grounding shows off superbly, and within seconds of this I am excited to see a second and then immediately a third White Admiral moving along. In the direct sunlight out in the middle of my humble cleared patch, a superb freshly emerged Comma is resting on a broken bracken stem.
Now if it could just stay sunny, dry and still for a period of more than a couple of hours…
Guided Walk with Hampshire Ornithological Society (11 guests)
Overcast and dull until 16:00, becoming clear, dry and sunny. Light WSW
First time I have lead a walk like this with birders. We gathered inside the gate for a few introductions, a short guide to the site and what we might expect to see. Nervous of course that we might end up seeing nothing at all. Time of day, time of year and the prevailing and unpredictable weather conditions make it difficult to guess what will show. But its a place that none of my guests know, and we all all just glad to be out, together and enjoying a walk.
Starts well, as we picked up the familiar call of a Stonechat in the east re-stock. Briefest of views from the track as the land falls away and the bird chose the west facing slope to evade us. But my first record of a Stonechat this end. Encouraging. Blackcaps and Chiffchaffs followed, often in pairs singing opposite each other. Introduction to the Chiffchaff subsong, unfamiliar to most.
And the first Large Skippers of the season beside the pond here; two on bramble flowers.
It continues much the same, Blackcaps, Chiffchaff Song Thrush and Goldcrest down along the track, along Q2 through the head high bracken, along Upper Velmore and down Section 4 to the clearfell. Several Brown Silverline moths and lots of Coal Tits calling. Blue Tit, Great Tit, Blackbird.
The Stonechats performed right on cue, in fact surpassing my expectations. As we walked up towards the High Seat it became apparent we were surrounded by a active and vocal family group. It took us a while to locate the male, though he was calling and singing throughout, but staying on the periphery of the group in the yew trees in the middle. At least three juveniles, maybe four. Then a second male. That one is a female. Six birds? may be eight?! I wonder if a second brood has hatched? or have I previously lost touch with the earlier youngsters which have disappeared recently?
It becomes clear after an initial oversight that one of the Stonechats in the yew tree, silhouette against the clearing sky, is in fact “something else”. A Spotted Flycatcher! It calls briefly, and flies across very conveniently to give everyone nice views in a nearby clump. The birds must be wondering what on earth is going on, all these people! The Flycatcher keeps close to the yew Tree trunk, flitting and swooping, always on the other side. As we come round to move off, it takes flight and heads away from us. Immediately followed by a second bird! Seen only in flight, but exactly the same jizz and flight. Wonderful – now, are they a breeding pair? No-one is entirely sure where the next nearest breeding pair would be. Possibly at Baddesley Common Emer Bog but there are no recent reports. In fact, very few at all outside of the New Forest…?
To finish off this crossing of the clearfell nicely, we pick up the Linnet pair too. feel sure I had three others, behind us calling earlier? Something else to check up on – amazing to think they may have nested here as well?!As we step out onto the track, it turns 4pm – the scheduled time I thought we would be back at the carpark. But there’s no hurry, and the half hour walk back is in brighter conditions as the cloud starts to move rapidly away eastwards. By the birchline, one of the grassy patches at the side of the track hosts six Meadow Browns, all freshly emerged and very busy.
Nuthatches entertain us in the south east corner, and brief encounters with a Small White butterfly and a circling Buzzard round things off nicely.
The flight of the Buzzard and the brightening sunshine have encouraged me. I am happy with how the walk went, but feel now the need to relax, unwind and stroll. Having wrote a few days ago that I am struggling with the Wood, I now immediately feel better. Dappled, bright sunlight but no crazy heat. No people, no pressure and a chance to breath and wander. There is no immediate need to be anywhere else, and it is suddenly lovely. I am embraced and comfortable. I think leading a walk reinforces my sense of belonging and stewardship. It is a question of confidence too, being expected to know a place well enough to answer questions, and trusting the site to deliver when you expect it to. All very satisfying.
I cut back in to Larpers Lane, and immediately come upon a family of Bullfinches busy hooting to each other. The light is perfect, a d I feel inclined to search for White Admirals. They have been hard work for two seasons now, and the weather is all over the place. On parting form the group, I checked my phone and Facebook reminds me that it is four years ago precisely that I took my best pictures of my favourite butterfly. I feel more determined than hopeful, but conditions are better right now that so far this year otherwise.
This is the experience of “unselfing”. Losing oneself, and seeing the environment from the point of view of the other creatures that live here. Those beyond ourselves. Becoming absorbed into Something Else Disconnecting with the thoughts, challenges and problems that burden us day to day. Feeling them set aside, so that one becomes removed from oneself. Different.
Down to The Court. It has been a long time since I walked here. Quiet, until a sudden flurry of birds – Long-tailed, Coal Blue Tits, Dunnocks and alarmed Blackbirds alert me to the presence of a male Sparrowhawk! Right there in front of me, taking off just as I see where he sat and diving through the trees. Nuthatches too join in the crowd noise. Two Speckled Woods are of course not in the least bothered… At 17:00, emerging on to the crossing, conditions could not be more perfect. It is a great time to be hear, alone. Just me and the trees. Light filtered through Upper Velmore. Grasses glowing bright green (top picture). No WHite Admirals along here, but perhaps I might have better luck in the wayleave – just about the only place I saw any last year. On the way up, let’s check the reptile mats. One large female Slow-worm under #8, and three more (including two young) under #7. Tiny, coppery and beautiful. Nothing under #6, except ants. So next through the thistles, brambles and grass to #5. Bingo!! Having briefly lifted the mat, I lower it again immediately my heart thumping. Underneath, with another 3 Slow-worms is the most stunning thing I ever saw here, perhaps something I have wanted more than anything for many years as I have no field experience of them and can count on one hand the number I ever saw. Until this. A young adult, female Grass Snake is curled up under the tin!!! Quite large, probably 18 inches long and 20mm thick.
This. Wow. I don’t really need to say much else. Cautiously, with my camera ready, I lift the tin gently again in time to watch the snake disappearing gracefully down a hole, presumably a vole run, until 20 seconds later the tip of her tail shimmies and she is gone.
I am breathless and elated. The next patch of brambles, coming into flower, is thick with bumble bees. Three Large Skippers and two more Meadow Browns. Similar on the other side of the track, on Butterfly Corner. Two more Large Skippers in the Knapweed. The sun is behind me now, still high, casting soft light into Q1. It is a direction and a time of day I rarely travel.
There is a fluttering movement ahead as I come to the first stream, and for a brief moment, a White Admiral lands a few feet of me away on a low briar!
I just caught it on the camera – fantastic. They are still here and I have managed to find one. Every single strand’s connected.
I LOVE the Wood again. Relaxed and encouraged.
At the pond, there are three Broad-bodied Chasers whizzing around, occasionally alighting on various tall grasses.
Above them, a circling Buzzard. An adult, but a different bird to that which we saw earlier on the South side. That one had a missing feather or two in the middle of its tail and one secondary, but this one is in much better condition. Bigger too – a female. I can hear, and have done since finding the snake, the whining squeak of a young Buzzard, which may have either just fledged or is still in a nest of the front edge of the East Plantation.
And by now it is 6.30.
Woodland wellbeing walks. System reboot. Factory conditions restored.
Overcast but warm 18*C. Virtually no wind. Light F1 at the east end
Butterfly Transect Week 11
We have come in via Woodside and parked at the bottom of the lane, in the vain hope of finding the Grass Snake now reported twice on recent HIWARG surveys. Of course, I don’t (yet) have the right “eyes” so we could not find it. And weather conditions were very much against us. Again. Timing my walks to coincide with good conditions is proving rather difficult!
Only heard one Willow Warbler singing from Marshalls this afternoon, and a second out on the clearfell along the stream course. Two Blackcaps in this west end, and the first Meadow Browns I have seen this year. Also one Red Admiral on a bramble flower which surprised me and is actually only the second this year! Great Spotted Woodpecker and a Firecrest where the tracks join.
The transect survey itself returned just one butterfly – a single Small White along the track at the end of Section 5 just before the Gorse gap.
It got progessively more stuffy and oppressive. My shirt sticks to my back and the air is heavy.
Long-tailed Tits buzzing. Only 3 Chiffchaffs singing.
And a Stonechat, showing from the south side but a long way off in the middle.
It can’t do any harm to admit that I am struggling to connect properly with the Wood at the moment. I guess patchwork goes like that, but this is the most difficult spell I have had in five years…
Pleased with the bracken clearance (above) next time in, I will cut the few stems that have come through
Report of a visit to the site by Paul Baker of HIWARG (Hampshire & Isle of Wight Amphibian and Reptile Group) surveying the refugia
“Eighteen reptiles in total. Twelve lizards, four Slow worm and two adult Grass snakes, one basking on the path leading out of the site towards Chilworth. I also saw a Hobby mobbing two Buzzards in the sky over head”
Guided Walk with Southampton Natural History Society
14:00 – 16:00 Overcast and dull. Light S-SW breeze
Not ideal conditions for this walk today, and perhaps a little disappointing for those among the group of seven hoping to see a few more insects, especially butterflies and bees. We managed to find almost none of either!
Instead though, it turned out to be an interesting walk from a botanical perspective.
Hedge Woundwort (Stachys sylvatica)
Common throughout the British Isles, Hedge Woundwort (Red Archangel or Hedge Nettle) is member of the mint family that can grow anywhere between 30cm and 1 metre high. This straight tall plant with its hairy square stem has toothed leaves (that are similar to a stinging nettle but without the sting!) which grow off the main stem in opposite pairs. The small hooded mouth-like flowers are arranged in tight whorls around the top of the plant stem and are dark purple in colour with white markings towards the centre. Hedge Woundwort is a prolific seedmaker and can also spread quickly using underground rhizomes.
Its Latin name Stachys means ‘spike of flowers’, and Sylvatica means ‘of the forest’.
The group also confirmed the patches of Heath Bedstraw, Heath Speedwell, Wood Speedwell, Tormentil, Wood Sage and Yellow Pimpernel
Scarletina Bolete (Neoboletus praestigiator)
On acid soils under conifers, particularly spruces, and under beeches; and (var. discolor) occasionally oaks, most often at the edge of a wood or a clearing. The Scarletina Bolete is known to form ectomycorrhizal associations with both spruce (Picea spp.) and beech (Fagus spp.) and (for var. discolor) with oaks.
Usually formed between July and September.
Reported to be edible, but this mushroom is easily confused with poisonous species such as Rubroboletus satanas, the Devil’s Bolete.
This species grows especially fast. The example we found here, up a The Top has probably grown up in the last 3 days
Hot, sunny and bright 27*C. Relentless sunshine and heat now for four consecutive days. F1 – F2 very light SW breeze
Mad Dogs and Englishmen
Gosh, it is hot here. Barely five minutes inside the gates and walking down into the Wood across the east clearfell, the humidity is stifling and the air feels heavy. Birds are quiet and hiding from the midday heat. A couple of Chiffchaffs singing throughout, and the elusive Green Woodpecker is loud. The grasses are thick and full of micro-moths. Gorse in flower. Sharp and spiky. A single Siskins calls gently overhead, and in the opposite direction an encounter with another family of noisy Nuthatches
At Martin’s Pond. The water level is low but has settled, and the liquid itself is the rich brown colour of good tea. The resident female Mallard is still here, and not inclined to rise up and off. Is she perhaps flightless this week…? A few gentle quacks, and a few pecks and snuffles at the edge. She is happy enough. Around her today, at least three large flying insects.
Two males and one female Broad Bodied Chaser (Libellula_depressa). As I stand and watch them, amazed at their speed and aerial choreography, it becomes apparent there are five. two females, who in turn come down to the water’s edge, hovering and flicking their abdomen against the surface. Brilliant yellow patches on each side, almost glowing in the sunshine. The male’s blue is equally iridescent and they flash and shine as they skim around. The wings make a whirring sound, and as they mate on the wing, there is a metallic, clattering rattle on two in harmonious combat. Broad-bodied Chasers are often among the first species to colonise a new pond. Great signs of new summers.
Returning out to the track, and a Speckled Wood came up a few metres ahead of me. The one one on Section1 So few butterflies…
Nothing in Section 2 either, not along the wayleave or along Upper Velmore. There is at least some shade here and its the coolest part of today’s circuit. Emerging at the Crossing, both Speckled Wood and briefly a Holly Blue
So down the track along Section 4, passing a singing Frecrest in the most familair territory on my circuit now. One Blackcap singing too. But here and onwards, it is a sweltering environment, and again I am struggling to enjoy and appreciate the space properly.
Two or three large patches of an unfamiliar plant along the north side of sections 4 and 5.
AMong the tidy white ground covering flowers are patches of somethng taller. Delicate and purple
There is a smart male Chaffinch singing along Section 5, and nice to see the Willow Warbler still vocal.
Up at the top, which is a slog to pass, I can hear the Stonechat singing. Scanning twice, I eventually pick up both birds. The male especially looks stunning in his breeding finery, even shimmering in a heatwave.
I really don’t do heat. Hard work, draining and I am exhausted.