6 July 2020

2020 / 43

1430 – 1600 (with Nora Smith)
Mostly overcast and muggy – some brighter periods when the clouds thinned or parted.
Moderate F3 from the west

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We are here to ‘do’ butterflies again, armed this time with my net and a new notebook. My daughter (aged 13) is enthusiastic, and quite adept at catching Skippers it seems.
We were selective, and one she caught in the first Section hit the spot and will be one of the Essex Skipper reported here in the last few days and recorded by Simon.
Excellent – a first for me.
With no camera today – typical – I didn’t photograph it, but comparing the antennae and the upperwing ‘black line’ with the Small Skippers nearby it was quite clearly different.
Very nice too

Section One
At least one Blackcap singing, and a young Buzzard ‘screaming’ as Nora described it. ‘Spooky noise’.
One Large White at the edge of the clearfell quickly followed by two more and a very smart, fresh Red Admiral patrolling the track. Large Skipper too, as well as 4 or 5 Small Skippers. Lots more in the planted area too, but off transect. I had a look here for Marbled White to no avail, and then went over to check on the NJ site. The eggs are still there, exposed and apparently untouched. I am rather surprised they have not been predated by either Magpie or Fox..?
One Ringlet and one Peacock – which we must have overlooked as it flew up from the track under our feet.

Section Two
Things I really can’t identify and should get to learn more about are flowering plants (in this case Thistles) and grasshoppers. Nora has caught several small green crickets? we presume. Some have a yellow stripe on the back of their heads, some have red. males and females? There really is so much to learn, and I have a place to study and ‘find out’. Need a camera…
I mention  the thistles, because the patch here standing taller than the crazy bracken is attracting a lot of butterflies and bees. A quick scan with the binoculars returns two White Admirals, one Red Admiral and a Holly Blue, which rises and disappears quickly.
The White Admirals stay around and give good views but we can’t get near. Brambles and thistles seem favoured, but they like to bask in the sun on birch leaves. Still my favourite butterfly, but they have not done especially well in here this year. I love how they rest with their wings wide open and flat, even beyond horizontal, which I haven’t seen many other species do? One of the Wood’s summer highlights.

Section Three
MotoX bikes. Two, loud and smelly – the length of The Crossing is clouded in bluegrey smoke.They stop to chat with each other at the bottom with Velmore, and we can do nothing but watch. Opportunity for a litterpick though – the culprits have kindly left an orange carrier bag for us to put the plastic bottles and packaging into…
As soon as they have gone off towards the entrance, Nora picks up a ‘yapping’ noise like a monkey. Or is it a parrot? The Hobby is still here, and still loud. In the Middle of the Wood this year, maybe around Larpers Court… Great Spotted Woodpecker here calling too, and we can also hear young tapping and whistling.

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Slender St John’s Wort (Hypericum pulchrum)

Lots of grass here, especially at the top end, interspersed with Slender St John’s Wort, the next successional flower to appear. Plenty everywhere, but especially on the south side of the track around the clearfell.
Gatekeepers here, and a couple of Ringlets at the top, plus 3 or 4 Meadow Browns. In the net, these seem remarkably large butterflies, and incredibly varied between individuals. Also another half dozen Small Skippers. No catching, so no chance to check these for Essex…

Section 4
Retracing our steps down the crossing it begins to get quite ‘muggy’. But that seems to have little effect on the Gatekeepers especially, which have clearly emerged in the last couple of days. There are two here, two there, two more over there. A couple more Ringlets – they ‘dance’ through the air, very upright and skippy. Meadow Brown, Small (and Large) Skipper – and a second Peacock.
Also here, a large dragonfly – female Golden-Ringed, which is annually recorded now. It is quite funny watching Nora hopelessly trying to catch it in the net. I’m glad she didn’t managed it, but nice to be relaxed and amused here with my daughter who seems to be really enjoying herself and like sit here.

Section 5
More Gatekeepers and Skippers, and probably the same Peacock grounding every few metres ahead of us.
Most of the Foxgloves on the clearfell are over now, just a few remnant flowers. Summergreen is spreading, thanks at last to some rain.
Stock Doves sway gently in the tippy tops of Yew Trees. There is a Bullfinch to our left as we come up towards the seat, and by the birchline I can hear the resident Siskins. Only one to be seen though. And where did the Stonechats go? Remarkably elusive – I can’t see them again despite scanning the middle and the stream course several times.
Highlight though is more Crossbills, but they are behind in the Chilworth Pines. Three or four birds calling…?

All round the track are piles of sandy soil, scraped from the track. In some places, ditches alongside have been dragged or scratched, and in places there is evidence that this is part of an engineering project. Looks like some of the pipes that carry water under the track are being assessed for repair. There is spraypaint, arrows and localised excavation.

Meanwhile, debate rages in various forums online – UKBMS and SNHS are ‘challenged’ by this butterfly:

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We submitted it as Common Blue, but a query has been raised that in fact it looks more like a faded and worn Silver-Studded Blue despite its localised and ‘rare’ status. Personally, I know little to comment, but would have thought it too early for a specimen to be worn as they suggest…?
There are historic records from sites within 5 miles at Emer Bog and Baddesley Common:

  • “that could be a faded and worn Silver Studded Blue – the orange on the hind wing makes a single band and not discrete lunules…”
  • “Every feature I can see points to Silver-studded Blue rather than Common Blue”
  • “I have discussed this with UKBMS and due to its location, they do not believe it’s a SSB”

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  • “I think you will have dismiss this blue as unknown or assume it’s the commonest possibility – Common Blue. The silver studs are hardly visible but this could be due to the angle of the photo and the faded state of the butterfly. Also crucial features of the underside of the forewing cannot be seen. I can’t see the contrasting pale patch typical of Common Blue in outer middle part of the wing but this may be lost to fading. Also the arrangement of the spots on the underside of the hind wing seem to fit SS Blue better but this a variable feature. The forewing does seem to be rather more pointed than I would expect on SS Blue.”

One That Got Away

Finally today, we got back up to the entrance  just as another group of MotoX bikers arrived. Seven this time. They lined up (quite threatening) at the barrier, revving loudly like it was a start line as I pulled up in my car the other side. The only reason I had parked in the Wood was because of the contractors vehicles still blocking the layby and gate. I pulled up to the barrier but did not open it until they dispersed, scrambling up over the banks either side and roaring off down the track.
All very disappointing, and duly reported.

30 June 2020

2020 / 42

20:30 – 22:00

Still overcast after a day of showers and persistent drizzle. Mild evening 16°C with a moderate F3 SW wind. Clearing from the West later.

I have come to ‘check up’ on, watch and otherwise investigate the ‘eastenders’.
The eggs are still exposed, which is a concern. Is the nest abandoned, or do they do this until they incubate…?
For the best part of an hour nothing happens, except for a steady passage of gulls overhead which is unusual in itself. 14 Herring Gulls and 6 Lesser Black-backs pass over south in twos and threes, with then a single Lesser Black-back going back the other way.
Until 21:45 when a large number of gulls comes over. Unprecedented ragged group of over 60 birds, mostly Herring Gulls. At least two Blackbirds singing until its really quite late. And at least two Woodcock as well, For half an hour or more there seems to be one in the air the whole time, and twice, two birds circle past together.
I am surprised and delighted to have so much activity going on in these less than ideal conditions.

First heard the male Nightjar churring briefly on the stroke of 9.30 from one of the larches beside the track as I have had one doing at the other end of the Wood. I didn’t see him move, but its not long before he’s up and churring from the largest of the three Yews about 50m from where I am standing, tucked against a bank of bramble and  bushes. And here he comes, flicking and twisting, hovvering briefly over my head, checking me out. He swoops up onto a very low hanging branch just a few metres above the ground, and even without optics I can see him clearly. I have my scope tonight, and its fabulous to pick him up through this and enjoy close up views. OK its only half light, but while his tail is fanned I can see the two large white mirrors on each of the outer feathers. There is a crescent of pale marking under his eye and he appears to be wearing a heavy ‘collar’ of grey/black rather lika a mayoral chain… The shape is fascinating – Nightjars have apparently no chin/throat/neck and no forehead. Weird looking thing, but of course completely beautiful. He shifts on his perch to face me front-on, suddenly looking broad across the heavily barred chest. What a treat to see one so well.
The female appears from my right, calling with her plaintive ‘coo-ip’ and he swishes down to follow here, wing-clapping and calling in response. So they are both still here, and she may not be incubating yet. If she has laid somewhere else of course which is a possibility. So much more to find out.

It is past 10pm before I realise it, and the birds have fallen quiet.
Time to make my own exit. It is remarkably light for this time of evening.

Forestry England have been in since Friday with some heavy machinery and ‘scoured’ the track, at least as far as I can see around the first bend down towards the wayleave. the top couple of inches have been broken up and turned over. It is claggy after the heavy rain, and uneven to walk on. Surely not good for the solitary bee colony? I must look into what this achieves? Perhaps it aerates the soil, or improves drainage.
Turns up insects and seeds?

 

26 June 2020

2020 / 42

14:00 – 16:00 (with Kim Duffell and Simon Holloway)

Hot. Relentless period of unbroken sweltering sunshine for the third consecutive day.
31°C after maximum of 33°C yesterday (Thursday)

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By way of introducing KD to the place that has become my ‘go to’ sanctuary for the past four years, we have come to walk the butterfly transect with Simon. And today we come armed with a net that he gives me charge of. Its old, and seen a lot of action. I should have brought mine, but always, always forget.
Butterfly numbers (and species variety) has picked up across the county significantly during this latest crazy hot spell, and we are rewarded with our best-ever count results – picking up a healthy 13 species over the next hour and a half.

Small Skipper
Plenty of these now, recorded on every section of the transect. We had at least 20 and caught two for a good close up study.

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Small Skipper (Thymelicus sylvestris)

This one is a male, and shows one of the distinctive features that separates it from the frustratingly similar Essex Skipper. The black ‘scent brand’ on the upperwing curves up from the body parallel to the top edge of the wing. There is also no clear black tips to the antennae

Large Skipper
Five or six counted for sure on Sections 1 and 3, with one showing especially well beside the track as we walked back into section 5 form the west end.

Large White
At least 8, including four together at the end of Section 1, just before turning into the wayleave.

Green-veined White
First one this year, chased off aggressively by a couple of Large Whites so we could not get good views of it

Speckled Wood
Just one, and off transect. Up in the shadiest part of the circuit at the corner by the Chilworth Pines.

Ringlet
Again my first records for the year. I think we may have lost count of these after the first dozen. We netted one, up on the bramble blossom by the oak tree at the top of The Crossing. Delightful ‘velvet’ upperwing and charming flip-flop fast dancing flight.

Meadow Brown
Countless, but we should have taken more care. 20?

Gatekeeper
These were harder to see, but we had 10 or so, and again I realised they too are the first ones I have seen this season.

White Admiral
Simon has some concern that the clearance work in some areas may have had a negative affect on this species. Each of us has only seen single individuals so far, and I would have expected more by now. They prefer ‘dappled sunlight’ and a lot of the transect is quite open. I would like to come back in similar conditions and go up Larpers in the middle of the Wood where they are more likely to prefer. Just one again today, sunbathing on a young beech tree at the top of Section 2 in the wayleave.

Comma
The first butterfly of the day, right up by the vehicle stand, and the same one was till here on the way back. Two more together off transect, over on the south side between the crossing and the clearfell.

Common Blue
Two males today – the first I have seen this year and an absolute joy. They really are tiny, especially compared to Holly Blue which we were able to do at close range today. The first one was brief, but in flight and it showed stunning cobalt blue, really eyecatching. The second one was feeding on Ragwort in Section 5, where the only flowering specimen still stand sin that area. Maybe cut down or pulled up by the equestrians. It was an almost ridiculously confiding individual, intent on nectar, and allowed us all to crowd around it within just a few inches of the camera:

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Common Blue (Polyommatus icarus)

Holly Blue
Just one, ‘mineralling’ on the track and resting beside muddy puddles. Dancing between our feet. Delicate pastel blue, and with an almost white underside marked with a few black speckles. An early hatching of the year’s second brood?

Peacock
One individual cruising the track on Section 5, but it did not settle so we were unable to tell if it was a worn adult from this spring’s post-hibernation or a newly emerged adult from this year’s hatching. May be a bit early for that…?

 

This website is especially good for useful photos and information on butterflies, and seems to be based largely on observations around Hampshire

https://www.learnaboutbutterflies.com

 

Birdwise, we had the Siskins again over the clearfell, heard the Hobby twice and had two singing Firecrests.
A fabulous afternoon, if a bit warm and stifling at times..
‘Hot Wood’…?

 

18 June 2020

2020 / 41

20:30 – 22:30 (with Ian West)
Overcast and dull, but warm. 15°C

Ian has really got hooked on the Nightjars, which is lovely to see in someone I have known for 25 years that has never shown an interest in birds before. He brought his wife and duaghter here at the weekend, and claims to have had “birds everywhere” – including on the farmland and at Marshall’s – but I think some of that is over enthusiasm and inexperience talking.

We have come to the High Seat on his inititative, despite me maintaining it is not the best place to view them. But with beers in his rucksack and a sizeable portion of chips in mine I am not inclined to argue. And again, he claims great views of birds right overhead from here just a few days ago…

So it proved to be, although they were late starting. It does seem the first bird to start is the male who patrols the south side, churring with his erratic and short bursts. But a second quickly joins in. Just before 9.30 (a fewmoinutes after sunset) they start flying around, and for half an hour it’s quite remarkable. One comes – as described – right overhead fromt he end of the birch line and up into the large Yew that stands closest to the seat. Watching its silhouette from jst 20m away, it turns its head (no churring) raises its wings. Spreads the tail; a little shimmy and off again. The ‘quip’ call that enues is deeper than most, and I tell myself that actually I can identify this same bird by that lower note.
There is much bubbling, clucking and wing-clapping as a third male joins in. We have two encounters with FOUR birds together flying past us, leading me to conclude there are three males here this year, in pursuit of just a single female.

Mesemrising birds. But they have shifted slightly. We move on to watch from the track where the bird was callign form the larches last week and he is not using that perch now, and the female is not using the dead tree. They are more flighty, and very active. Two overhead along the track itself.

We had Owls again too. Two families – one on the clearfell itself inthe clump; and a second up on the Broad back up towards the east end.

Woodcock less active tonight for some reason. APart form just a half dozen roding flights, we saw three birds together twice

Update : Wednesday 25 June
I receive a phonecall from the Forestry England ranger confirming that he has found a Nightjar nest in the Wood. While ‘spotting’ the new planting there, SH disturbed a female who flew up from the ground into an adjacent yew tree and sat watching him at close range. There are currently two eggs, and I have been given details of the location.

This is tremendously exciting, as I have never seen a nest before, or even a daytime Nightjar in sunlight. So an opportunity presents itself to go and observe the birds behaviour during this incubation period. From a suitable distance of course. I note that Nightjar is currently not listed as Schedule 1 under the Wildlife & Countryside Act (1981), though I thought it was. There are between 500 and 600 pairs in Hampshire and it is described (HOS Annual Report, 2018) as “moderately common”). Another friend, and board member of HWT, reports that Nightjars have been found recently nesting in some of the New Forest carparks and on tracks in more open areas than usual this season. This may be a direct response to the reduced access for people in certain places imposed under the Covid-19 movement restrictions

I have found this paper to be of especial interest, although it is rather more academic and scientific than my limits

https://sora.unm.edu/sites/default/files/journals/auk/v075n01/p0048-p0059.pdf

SH also reported that on the same work session in the Wood, he encountered a ‘family’ of Stonechats and was amazed because he did not know they were here.
I have managed to see the male bird myself only once, so the family is a surprise. They have raised two young and were moving around along the stream course on the west clearfell.

If only I hadn’t moved house in the last couple of days…

15 June 2020

2020 / 40

14:30 – 16:00 (with Elsie and Nora)
Hot, but overcast and humid. 80% cloud cover – 22C

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Butterfly transect (week something…?)

I have lost track of what butterfly counts have been done this season, but the FC ranger did one here this morning and reported the first White Admiral of the year. Others locally are also seeing (at last) an increase in butterfly activity – new broods of Comma, Red Admirals etc. Marbled Whites and Skippers are on the wing too.
We started off with two or three Meadow Browns at the top of the track (first here this year) and on the grass in the east clearfell and a Red Admiral ourselves patrolling up and down. They are stunning insects that familiarity tends to overlook.
It is really hot though, and by the time we get round to Section 2 and the wayleave it is really quite stuffy  where the trees hold the heat in.

There is a Firecrest territory on the way here, and the male is singing well but remains out of sight. Seem to be a few more Chiffchaffs vocal too – and Blackcaps exactly where I expect them to be. Another first for the year – two Large Skippers at Butterfly Corner around the thistles and knapweed.

Since I last walked here two weeks ago (seems ages!) the bracken in the wayleave has exploded and now stands over head height in places. As we walk through, the girls are anxious about ticks and hayfever. We do a routine ‘check’ for the former as we emerge at Velmore – but they are right in some ways that it won’t be long before the wayleave is impassable again. Perhaps Simon and I need to get back in and do some more clearance? But that’s not to aid human passage and will be targeted for insects and pioneering plants. And talking of insects. Elsie found this on the broadest part of the track:

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It is a Dock Bug (coreus marginatus) which feeds – as its name reflects – on dock and sorrell. I know little of insects, and sometimes it does feeling overwhelming just how much there is to learn… endlessly inspiring.
Also here, overhead calling and just dipping into the trees when I picked them up – three Siskins. They were recorded here last week, and its good to see them again for myself. Third year running we have had a pair raise a single juvenile.

There are a couple more each of Meadow Brown and Large Skipper as we move up The Crossing (Section 3) and by the time we reach the top the cloud has briefly parted and the sun is breaking through. Perhaps that was the cue for the White Admiral that suddenly appeared around one of the Yew trees? Flying really fast and it was frustrating that the girls couldn’t get a better view. It didn’t settle, but wonderful to see. Earliest summer date for me here too – previously not seen before 23rd June. I look forward to more of these beauties in the coming weeks – they can present some great photo opportunities and really are stunning when they ground and feed etc. My favourite butterfly.

Nice chat with the girls about the cycles of life in here. Successional flowers etc, and best measured for me in the birds. Firecrests in February, then warblers arrive. Then odd migrants and a look out for hirundines. Woodcock, then Hobby, then Nightjar. And now butterflies, until the young Hobbies emerge later in August.

 

5 June 2020

2020 / 39

20:45 – 22:00
Overcast with clear spells. Moderate F3-4 wind from the West.
Dull with rain setting in overnight

I have come to the Wood this evening feeling rather pessimistic about the chance of experiencing the best of the NIghtjars under the midsummer full moon.
But I don’t know enough about the moon’s orbit to realise that of course it is very low in the sky now and was entirely hidden by rumbling thick grey cloud this evening. All rather disappointing – especially coupled with an unusually windy day too.

Sitting here for the first time at the EAST clearfell, the trees are loud, swishing and rattling and even at low level there are swirls in the grass and all kinds of rustles and whisperings. To seal the evening’s fate, I can hear to my left a group of ‘lads’ under the large yew at the top of Larpers Lane – laughter and the unmistakably loud whoops and jeers of men at rest.

Nevertheless, I hear a very brief churring and two “quip”flight calls at 21:15, immediately followed  by a half-sighting visual. He drops out of the second yew (the Pied Flycacther tree) and swoops away from me behind it. Glimpses as he twists and turns low around to the left, and briefly back into the clump where it is already too dark to make out anything at all.
Everything happens at once: while the Nightjar(s) are dancing – I can here wing clapping and two birds calling – a Hobby yaps in the distance. Good, I I was just beginning to wonder if he was still here; and a Woodcock comes over from the Upper Qurter, heading over the Wood.
I can also hear what I first scribbled down was a Raven. But actually, its a creaky Crow.

The next twenty minutes are frustrating because the Nightjars ‘disappeared’. I expect the combination of torches int he Wood and wind kept them low and quiet. Two Woodcock came up low chasing one another. I heard nothing much until 21:45 when the owl babies starte dup, in the same clump as the NIghtjar first appeared.
I know little of the habits of these birds, but I suspect this is a different family? If so, that’s REALLY good news. Assuming the young are still flightless balls of grey fluff at this early time of the year, then I have found three groups in the last two weeks. Thsi one tonight is accompanied by a loud, anxious mother. In fact, they all have been now I think of it – the distinct call of the adult female is typically sharp and scolding.

But now its raining. There is still a golden patch of bright light to the west over to the Roughs and North Baddesley, but here it is dark, a little cold and now wet too. The weather doesn’t look very promising at all next week – every day “sunny intervals” are forecast with varying degrees of blustering westerly winds.
So that might be it for these Nightjar evenings, and I will wait in hope for a chance ot come and do the butterfly transect.

In the meantime, there’s this:

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A plucking post, among the West Pines over towards Chilworth and Marshall’s. Something has taken a Woodcock. My first thought would be the obvious Sparrowhawk, but the ‘kill’ doesn’t look typical? It lacks the downy breast feathers, and usually they decapitate their prey. So perhaps a Tawny Owl. If there’s is one male trying to feed three families he would take anythhing – two competing males would also intensify their hunting.

 

2 June 2020

2020 / 38

20:30 – 22:30 (with Ian West)
Beautiful clear and warm evening, cool in the shade.
Waxing gibbous moon at 85%, high to the east. Full moon June 5th

Introducing a friend to the Wood this evening. or rather, re-introducing. Ian hasn’t been here for 30 years but grew up in Chandlers Ford and knows the site well. The trees have grown rather a lot – from the junction between the footpath and the bridleway one used to have views north to Farley Mount. Cheesefoot Head is still clear (surely visible form just about everywhere in Hampshire), but the oaks at the Roughs now obscure anything further west.

Ian is not a birder, or even a naturalist. It’s refreshing to be here with someone appreciative but who doesn’t even know what a Nightjar IS let alone never having had decent views of one. So a few basic facts, and an introduction to the different bird sounds audible as we sat up at the top. Take out beer from the Crockle Rock taproom in Botley, chips from Big George in Swaythling and a good overdue catch up on a couple of logs at the side of the track.
Blackbirds mostly. That’s a Wren. Flying over its just crows and pigeons.
Except that, that’s a gull.

Unusual actually, a low-flying Lesser Black-back, circling the clearfell and calling loudly throughout. Sub-adult – perhaps lost?

Nightjar action began just after 21:30, with both males churring down at he bottom of the clearfell, the east end. Distant from here, so we walked round towards the gorse gap for a better ‘experience’. Woodcock overhead as we started off, and a couple of Pipistrelles.
Deer barking. Rasping, not really a ‘bark’…

The ‘easy’ male Nightjar was churring again from the trackside larches, and perfectly visible in silhouette as he sang in characteristic profile along the branch. He has attracted a mate, and on several occasions the female sat up on the dead yew tree showing really well. He would fly down, coming right over our heads, and the two oof them circle around, wing clapping, calling etc.
On one occasion, the second male came over and was chased off. Another new call in this situation – a rolling, arpeggiated ‘chu chu chu chu’ that could be said to echo something like Curlew or Golden Plover…
The pair have settled to this routine it seems, and showed well from familiar branches.
Ian was fascinated by their ‘weird’ flight. As if they are hardly birds at all

How right he is…

Finished off with one of the Tawny Owl families on the track down to Marshall’s. I think three babies, squeaking really close.

1 June 2020

2020 / 37

14:30 – 15:30 (with Elsie and Nora)
Hot 26C. No breeze and full high sun with no cloud cover.

Little more than a perfunctory walk this afternoon for an hour simply because the weather proved uncomfortably hot to be out in for long and the girls didn’t want to stay.
It really was blistering in the sun, and stuffy in the shade – only the south side of the track in the shadow of the pines provided any relief.

As we stood here, walking back towards the Copse Lane “in”, I scanned for Stonechats.
It really doesn’t look as if the pair have stayed, or otherwise the singing male has gone still and quiet. We even walked out to the High Seat but no sign of them since I successfully found them last week.

There are two or three Brimstones around, but otherwise the clearfell is still. Shimmering in the afternoon sun.
Foxgloves burning – flowerspikes like flames, as if the landscape is on fire.

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No Crossbills, no Hobby. No inclination for anything to do much at all.
Summer has come early.
Even the butterflies are few and far between. Two Holly Blue and 3 Speckled Wood.
They, like the rest of us no doubt, could desperately .do with some rain…

26 May 2020 (2)

2020 / 36

20:30 – 22:30 (with Tony Bunday)
Mild evening, cooling 15*C. Clear and still. Waxing crescent (new) moon 14%

Sometimes everything just comes together…

Arrived at the west clearfell ten minutes before sunset at 21:04, both commenting that the Woodcock were quiet. They have been so far this year, but I must remember that it is still May and therefore actually quite early in the season.
First one came over as we moved up the top of the track at 21:20, glinting bronze in the last of the light.

Nice views of a hunting Kestrel.

Two minutes later, there is a Nightjar churring down in the SE corner. Distant and quiet, intermittent. Presumably the ‘first’ of the males that arrived. We are just discussing this, standing more at less at the viewpoint – where the seat is now almost entirely obscured by bracken and foxgloves – when there is a very loud “quip” call really close, just behnd the yew tree Where The Great Tits Live.
There is still plenty of twilight lingering, and a Nightjar appears. Flies from left to right banking in front of us, crossing the track and disappearing into the trees. A female I think, because there is no immediate sign of white on her wings or tail. Over the next ten minutes, she appears twice more, showing superbly – in flight – and at one point is pursued by one of the males. Its frustrating that we can’t see this behaviour, but there is a lot of wing-clapping now, and both birds are calling. Two similar but distinctly different calls. One is the characteristic, liquid “kw-ip”, but the other, an octave lower, is a soft clucking sound ‘kwp kwp kwp’
And there she is again, ahead of us on the track, banking as she gets really close, and agin into the trees. And by now, there is a male churring loudly nearby.
Three birds. Most excellent.

We have walked as far as the birch line, and on our back to the top we encounter several bats. Pipistrelles. All along the western edge there flitter past – at least six individuals.
And in the flurry of Nightjar activity, the Woodcock have become almost incidental, so retracing our steps now gives a good opportunity to take more notice of them. This is by far the ‘best’ evening so far – over half an hour there are 12-15 flights, including two birds together twice. They are up and down around the track more or less all the way round to the’path’ that leads up to the High Seat, though the light has faded now beyond the capacity of Tony’s camera.
We pause at the top, because I can hear the unmistakeable squeak of Tawny Owl babies.
Tony reminds me that this is the exact same spot we saw the family together last year, a day or two after I had the encounter with owlets in the largest clump. But again, we are looking into the pines, and everything is too dark to distinguish.

There is the occaisonal flight call of Nightjar(s) along this north edge of the clearfell as we walk back towards the gorse gap. It is here in the line of yews that the male bird showed especially well last year, and he’s up there now churring loudly. Yes – a brief view of the ‘ring flight’ and back to sing again.
Our best view comes from butterfly section 4, looking due west at these yews with the crescent moon behind them. And there he is. After another loud burst of song, this bird appears from our left and comes to rest on a branch at the dead tree that stands here, perfectly silhouetted flat along its length in a typical fieldguide position. He is restless, and flutters about, at one point appearing to ‘stand up’ on the branch, raise his wings and spread his tail, looking exactly like a butterlfy and some kind of angel.
It is little wonder Nightjars have mythical associations, such as being the spirit of unbaptised children or the source of ‘puckeridge’ and scourge of goatherds.
Poets love the nightjar, occupying as it does that crepuscular, liminal half-place between day and night where changes happen. For it is such, “liminal”. Half one thing, half another. Half day, half night. Half moth, half bird. Half spirit, only half real.
Dylan Thomas mentions it in his poem Fern Hill, and Wordsworth describes
the Nighthawk singing his frog-like tune
Twirling his watchman’s rattle about.’
Poet and naturalist Charlotte Smith (1749-1806) wrote:
‘While, by the lingering light, I scarcely discern
The shrieking night-jar sail on heavy wing.’

Lone on the fir-branch, his rattle-notes unvaried,
Brooding o’er the gloom, spins the brown eve-jar.’
George Meredith

The warm undulating churring of its song sounds almost mechanical, like an old Singer sewing machine, or a spinning wheel; or crickets. John Clare described it in a letter as ‘a trembling sort of crooing noise’.

Clare (and the others) are right. As we watch this remarkable bird, it flies up right over our heads to take up a similar position in a trackside larch. I have never seen this before, but there it is, easy to see though 20 feet up. Churrrrrr-rrrr-ing like a sewing machine, fading in and out between left and right channels as he turns his head to project the sound a maximum distance. The sound is utterly absorbing, and it is as if the evening itself is vibrating inside my head.
Hard to imagine that this is even a bird at all.
It is an experience I would love to share with my children and various non-birdy friends because of its magic and mystery.
Firecrest and Hobbies are amazing of course, and each bird that lives in these parts has its own charm. It is unfair to compare each with another. But. But… there is just ‘soemthing else’ about the Nightjar that really tops everything for these few weeks as they meet, court, mate and display.
And there he goes back to the Yews.

Enough for tonight.
But we are not done yet…

Going back up the track, still one or two Woodcock squirt overhead. And, exactly at the same spot as last week just past the wayleave, more Tawny Owl babies. This is definitely a second, different brood. First time I can be sure of this, and great news. All of which begs the question – is there two pairs, or does one male serve two females?

This season, I am determined that one of these evenings – in the next week or two – I will spend the time ONLY up here at the east clearfell, where the BTO have ringed Nightjars but I have never encountered one.
So what better time than now to hear a call! “quip” quip”. I can’t say, male or female, but it’s definitely a Nightjar. So four birds on site. And evidence that watching the east end soon will be worthwhile.

An enchanted, magical session. I leave elated and beaming. The moon is beautiful, a cresent slice, like a fingernail through the indigo silk skycurtain.
This place charms me. Its denizens delight and disarm.
Bewitched, beguiled. Becoming.

Oh fern owl
you flying toad
Whirring clockwork thing
Moth owl
Night hawk
Mythical spirit king

26 May 2020

Insects

Another visitor to the Wood has kindly sent me these photographs of beetles currently active on the sandy track:

Tiger Beetle 1

Green Tiger Beetle (Cicindela campestris)

http://www.wildlifetrusts.org
The Green Tiger Beetle is a common ground beetle of heathland, moorland, sandy grassland and sand dunes. Often seen in bright, sunny conditions during the spring and summer, the Green tiger beetle is a fast, agile hunter, running across the ground to catch its invertebrate prey, including spiders, caterpillars and ants. It is well-equipped to tackle its prey, with a ferocious set of jaws and long legs that give it an impressive turn of speed (it is one of our fastest insects). When disturbed, it will often fly a short distance before running away.

Two-banded Longhorn, Rhagium bifasciatum 9

Two-banded Longhorn (Rhagium bifasciatum)

http://www.uksafari.com
Two-banded Longhorn Beetles are one of the most commonly found longhorn species in the UK. The adult beetles can be identified by the two cream coloured marks on the side of each wing casing with a reddish one in between (which is not always clear to see). They can sometimes be found on tree trunks, or feeding on the pollen of Hawthorn, Cow Parsley or Hogweed.