31 August 2020

2020 / 55

06:15 – 09:00
Clear, bright and blue forecast. 12*C

Simon is here, the shooting season for Roebuck is open until end of October.
I look forward to catching up with him later, but will not disturb for now.
Which way shall I go? down Q1 as usual I think, to check for migrant birds along the stream course.

Green Woodpecker yaffling. When will I get to SEE this elusive bird…


I am here before the sun, which is casting an early pink glow on the thin cloud as it begins its ascent behind the Aviva pines. There is a chill in the air and a mist at ground level. I can hear Robins – probably three – several Blue Tits, a Wren and at least two Nuthatch. All individual birds, no flock here yet today but I will doubtless come upon a gathering at some point. For now, its just nice to walk, alone among the trees and the damp grass on a beautiful morning.
At butterfly corner, there are several examples of flowering Scabiosa which is an encouragement. Butterflies have had a short season this year.
Sixth sense alerts me to look up, and a thin flight call identifies the small passerine overhead as a Tree Pipit. Most excellent – I am on such a roll here this week or so, adding new bird species to the annual record all the time. Other birders locally have been picking these up, so its good to have one on my patch. It is the time now for migration to start picking up and there is a sense of new vitality returning to the Wood.

There’s a Great Spotted Woodpecker calling from the Broad, somewhere to my left. A couple of Chiffchaffs and a Wren.

A gunshot. Simon has hit his target.

At the crossing, an understandably skittish female Roe deer bounces off as soon as seeing me. And here’s a small flock of birds… mostly Coal Tits. Goldcrest and a lovely Treecreeper among them. Listening as they are hard to see. Down below, just off Upper Velmore, a Firecrest. Wondering about the Hobbies as I stand here. Are they still around. What time last year was I seeing the young birds. Have they survived the Goshawk arrival…?

It’s no surprise to feel an uneasy quiet around the clearfell, and only a Mistle Thrush call is off any note.
Simon’s second kill at exactly 7.00 makes me edgy too, and I am not sure I should circumnavigate the whole clearfell as was my plan. SO I move slowly and cautiously along the northern edge watching mostly Dunnocks and Great Tits flitting between the track and the trees.
One Great Tit is chasing a large beetle through the air, twisting and turning acrobatically in its pursuit. Unsuccessfully. It is great just to watch nature in its home, going about its graceful business. There is beauty in these small everyday acts that we seldom get a chance to see., but which are immensely fulfilling and mindful.
Up where the tracks join, I turn and come back along the same route, noting with a smile that two female Roe Deer are still out grazing among the restock.
Three more Pipits overhead, together, but I *think* these are Meadow, judging by the call. Nevertheless a good record and a sign of things moving along.

And here is Simon. Handshakes and smiles. It’s good to talk. Come back this way with me, I’ll introduce to to my boss…

I am flattered and encouraged to be ‘accepted’ among these professionals and experts in different aspects of forestry. Robin appreciates my records and diligent reports of campers, bikes etc. he is not a naturalist, but is respectful and encouraging. Beside him is a contractor, Louis, here to work on the drainage, dig more ditches at the side of the track and clean up the pipes etc. We walk purposefully together for half an hour talking ponds etc, budgets and the challenges of a restock subject to such intense deer grazing.

The BTO Ringing Group are in, setting up in the middle of the clearfell now that Simon’s work is done. Blackcap and Bullfinch added to the day’s tally. A few Willow Warblers are passing through along the stream course, including several bright yellow juveniles

What happens next is a little bit mind-blowing.

“We have caught this too”…

What an absolutely stunning find, in the nets down along the stream course. A very young bird too – and a real scarce visitor to even the county

87th Patch Tick, and a quite remarkable eighth new bird species added this year. Not one I predicted, so who knows what will turn up next.

Great to be a part of the stewardship team that connects with and cares for this remarkable place.

Continue reading

28 August 2020

2020 / 54

15:00 – 16:30 (with Aidan Bryden)
Overcast with imminent rain. Muggy and warm 23*C

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An impromptu walk, introducing a friend to the sanctuary and calm of “this Wood that I keep going on about”…
Isolation and Covid-shielding can get the better of anyone

We strolled among the greenery
Exchanging thoughts with the scenery
Storm clouds within us
Storm clouds above
Low pressure building
Release from the shielding…

As the clouds gathered around us, expressing the dark grey moods within, from the West, so a large flock of Hirundines were pushed through. Mixed House Martins and Sand Martins – the first ones this year, taking my total to 71 species. That’s the highest year total since I began recording in 2016.

It began to rain, and we cut into the trees at the west end giving me another opportunity to inspect the bike track. It is for Mountain Bikes, not dirt bikes or Moto-X and is well used. I suspect it has been here quite a long time…

We turned round one of the sharp corners.
Ahead, slightly left and only 15m away, a large pale brown bird is hunched on the ground with its back to us. Wings slightly open. A scene that would not be out of place in the Forbidden Forest at Hogwarts…
The bird turns and glares at us before reluctantly taking off. Pure malice in its eyes, and even now as I write this I can feel the cold and “evil” stare for disturbing it plucking a kill. Of course, this is the GOSHAWK that has been around a few days. Its a breath-taking moment – I had rather expected one day to see a bird high circling over and could not have dared to with for this encounter. Sucvh a powerful presence. Chilling. I haven’t taken field notes of any plumage details, and my abiding memory is of the bird’s amazing tail. Fanned wide, heavily barred, each feather separate from the others breaking up the dark sub-terminal band and all pale fringed

86th bird for the Wood list, 72 this year. A stunning Never Moment.
Again. The Wood this year is an endless season of surprises.

And my friend is a few metres away, oblivious, kicking stones into a large sandy dip between tree roots…

27 August 2020

2020 / 53

14:00 – 16:00 with TB’s black Labrador Ernie
Persistent heavy rain 16*C

ONE OF THOSE DAYS

A steady drizzle has been falling since before dawn this morning, and it has turned progressively heavier all day. The sky is heavy, thick with bulging grey and white clouds, and there is little wind to move anything on.
The Wood smells wonderful – a clean freshness; pine and grass. Summer leaves. And everywhere it is rich, bright green of every hue and shade.

Time at the east clearfell again, determined to find at least which of the refugia hosts this Grass Snake. I have memorised the lay of sticks and brash around the reptile in the HIWARG photo, and in fact I already have a good idea that it is No. 3 as the first two at least are mostly on grass. So…?
And there it is! Stunning – though a lot smaller than I was expecting. No more than 8-9 inches long, and slimmer than my little finger. A juvenile, perhaps hatched this spring – beautifully marked grey and black,  not brown or olive. Bright yellow collar.
This little wonder is only the second example I have ever seen, and it has been over 30 years since the last time, so in personal terms this is a massive find. And it doesn’t seem to be in too much of a hurry to get away, so I get time to watch it, in some kind of awestruck state.
As it moves to the back of the raised mat, I lower that gently back to the ground and stand up smiling – such a tiny thing has impacted deeply and I am filled with a great joy. The rain is forgotten. Or is it lighter? Yes, picking my way down to the stream I sense a hint of brighter light though there is no break in the cloud. For the next half hour, the weather does  ‘take a breath’and returns to drizzle.

“Something” has been digging in Q1, around the patch of grass just behind the sedge-lined watercourse. Purposefully, and its clearly not a dog. There are holes in several places and one in particular that is the result of deep, strong scraping. There are droppings at the bottom – this is a Badger latrine. Fascinating. And it won’t be too far from the sett either – so if this is the same family that live at the back of the Wood then there tunnel extend all the way back to here? Surely it must be different as that is over a mile away and significantly more than a few hundred metres. What a find – especially following the snake just 15 minutes earlier. My head spins with plans. Can I come back this evening? Tomorrow morning?
When can I next get here at a time to watch for Badgers…

Given the rain has eased slightly, and its persistence last night, I feel more inclined to brave the ‘bracken run’ down Q2 than I have for a while. Large swathes have been flattened or at least weighed down, and passage is wet but not too difficult. The tangled briars are a challenge though – lots of long runners to trip and snag. The thistle patch and rough area 100m in does look impressive now and there are moths everywhere.  Lots of different flowers and grasses. And Mat No.5…
Curled up underneath is another Grass Snake!! A bigger one, though still a young juvenile. This one is more active and uncurls and slips off quickly – its about 15 inches long, and a little more silver coloured on its sides. An absolute delight. I am not in the least bit ready to photograph it and may regret the fact that when I do reach for my phone I am reminded of the alarm  that sounded at mat 3 warning me it was about to go flat. But that is of no consequence. I am mindful, present and utterly absorbed in the visual memory of what I have just seen, uplifted by the awareness that we must have an adult female int he Wood too, and of course somewhere also a fertile male. One day, I know I will meet them.

I am taking to the Wood. Thanking her in a way, nodding and feeling assured. In my life now, there is no greater place than this. To be here, alone with the wildlife and acknowledged by the Wood as welcome guest. It is affirming, enriching and brings a peace that is hard to describe or find elsewhere. I am blessed with learning and experience, and developing knowledge that feels valuable. My stewardship here matters. I feel connected and engaged. Alive.

Enthused now, what’s under Mat 6…? A lovely, if rather panicked, little Field Vole that run round in little circles before disappearing down a hole that it had forgotten the precise location of. And at the other side, just a foot away – a juvenile Slow Worm. Six inches long, and the palest copper colour. It doesn’t move at all, and I quietly lower the tin and move towards No. 7. As I do so, a movement in the grass catches my eye and I thought at first it was a frog. But no, it’s a Common Lizard, and another small young one.

Nodding and smiling, fussing the patient and delightfully ignorant dog.

Mat No.7 is the ‘fullest’I have seen – hosting a whole family of Slow-worms. There is a large female, well over a foot long curled around at least three pale young, and nearest to me an equally big male greyish bronzed male whose tummy is ‘flattened out’at rest. I have always found these lizards particularly fascinating, and to come across a peaceful family like this is a joy.

What a day!!

But it is raining again now, and I am hooded. Water is beginning to soak through my inappropriate trousers and it is all a little uncomfortable. I am so rarely here in these conditions though, and the encounters have encouraged me not to abandon the walk as is my habit. Dog doesn’t care at all, and has found another stick to drag through the puddles. At the crossing, there is litter. Lots of litter – two carrier bags full of plastic drink bottles, cans and food wrappings. And a petrol can, hidden among the bracken to one side, with a dispensing spout next to it. Moto-X riders. I gather it all up and stand it all out in the open to pick up and remove on the way back.

Its impossible to even see out onto the clearfell for a while. Proper, belting rain and to be honest its a bit of a trudge to the top end Where The Tracks Join, and from here I randomly decide to turn right and go down to Marshalls Row where the tree cover is thickest. Slippery. I must look a right sorry bedraggled state as I stumble over the ditch through the heather and into’the West Wood pines for cover.
What is it that draws us to choose a particular route when the deer paths criss cross and come together? Left here, right here. Occasionally, there is a squeak from a Coal Tit or a Nuthatch, but I have almost ‘forgotten’ about birds today. That is until I hear the unmistakable whistle of a Spotted Flycatcher. Two birds, up there with the tit flock? tThey are everywhere this week – Southampton has lots in the Old Cemetery, the Airport. Pied too – one I still need this year in here.

Ahead of me, 75 metres or so from my’Sitting Spot, I make Another Discovery. It really is a day for finding things. But this one is much less favourable and intensely annoying. How have I hitherto overlooked the development of a Motocross run? Running parallel to the track but completely hidden from that direction, a course has been built comprising ramps, ditches, banks and even a large bowl about 10 metres across! Proper construction, which will have surely had to be done with machinery. I walk its sandy course, though many of the steep dips are knee deep in rainwater. Now I really do wish I had a camera with me, as this really should not be here at all and needs reporting. Next week I will be meeting Simon onsite to do a butterfly transect, to catch up and no doubt once again discuss ‘the Pond’

Talking of Simon…
I had an email last night saying that he came to the Wood yesterday evening to count deer, and found 13 adults and young so will be starting another cull soon. Two Nightjars and two Woodcock.
But also – a juvenile GOSHAWK perched up in the larches beside the Gorse gap, with a full crop! What?! Isn’t this Wood just incredible – what next?? I am not familiar with Goshawks though I have been told there is a pair within 5 miles. Perhaps one of their offspring has found Hut Wood? This can’t be good news for the Hobbies – but what a bird!

Guess where I will be tomorrow evening – regardless of the weather conditions.

 

21 August 2020

2020 / 52

A walk with Ernie, TB’s black Labrador

Windy F5-6 at times 50mph, but no immediate rain.

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By way of a change, and in a vain attempt to evade the noisy and aggressive wind, we have come to the South East corner of the Wood. This fence makes the perimeter along that side. The traffic noise is loud as we close to the embankment on the slip roads between the M3 and M27 motorways.
There is litter here, but no sign of any recent camping activity.

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A flock of small birds is active as we step into the trees – good views of Long-tailed Tits, Blue Tits, two Nuthatches and I can hear Coal Tit, Great Tit and Goldcrest. One or two Robin and Blackbirds, but otherwise nothing until we come right out through The Oaks and back out on the track.

The first seasonal signs of fungi emerging:

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Stock Doves are still sweeping around in flocks. there are 8 here, 4 there. Three more this side. And then 24 Feral Pigeons over the clearfell. They seem to love the wind, and swoop and dive on their way through.

Back up in the East Clearfell, I have stepped over the stream and caught sight of a movement in the long grass. A Slow-worm crosses right in front of me. Only the second one I have seen in the open – ie not under a mat. Fantastic!

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20 August 2020

2020 / 51

13:15 – 16:00
Light 3-4 S-SW. Cooler 22°C. Blue sky and sunshine with small, scattered clouds

I have come today with the intention of catching up with THIS, which was seen near ‘one of’ the refugia mats on Monday afternoon by a HIWARG surveyor:
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It’s a GRASS SNAKE, recently fed. I can hardly believe it – what wonderful news! A first record here as far as I know and of course I am rather keen to see it for myself.
So I will do a butterfly transect count while I am here, and check under the mats.

As I start, there is a Holly Blue feeding on the fleabane at the top of Section One. Its flightly and I can’t get anywhere near it. One Small White here too, and a busy and unapproachable Meadow Brown. Nuthatch and Wren calling. It is hard going picking through the brash, bracken and brambles in the east clearfell and I can only find three of the four mats? There is nothing but ants under any of them… Mat #4 is missing, which confirms what the HIWARG surveyor reported. Judging from his picture though it looks as if the mat in question is on the west clearfell…?
The sunlight catches the bronze wings of a small dragonfly down towards the stream – a Brown Hawker which I did not record here last year. Fabulous. This one is a female and she’s briefly perched up resting but there’s a male associating now.

On Section 2, I take a detour and stay on the Broad as the wayleve is impassable. I could fight through, but it won’t be pleasant, and the light here is pleasant and soft. Two Speckled Woods dance past, happy together and approaching the junction I can see a female Brimstone on the Knapweed. This is a lovely border now in the sun, and I look forward to more things here next year. It is nest approached from this direction and therefore often overlooked when I cut down the wayleave instead. BUllfinch and Chiffchaff calling, and three Feral Pigeons overhead.
Also hereabouts, at least three dragonflies – all of which appear to my untrained eye to be Southern Hawkers…?

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There are more going up Section 3, The Crossing, which is in full warm sunlight and a young female Roe deer has come out to graze. Unfortunately she is skittish and crashes off at high speed before I get anywhere near. A good few grasshoppers and crickets about, but no more butterflies. There are no Gatekeepers on the wing today? Nice view of a male Woodland Grasshopper on the ground in the sand – easy now I know what to look for. Another two Hawkers at the top – wow. Six at least already…?

At the clearfell, 14:40, and the Buzzard is up circling low and calling. The resident Stock Doves don’t seem unduly concerned. But actually there are a lot today? The largest group – 8 birds – comes in and out twice and there must be four perched up. And another group of three…? From the birchline I can hear the Stonechats but I can see only one, the male. The birds that are gathering here include Long-tailed and Coal Tits, Goldcrest and at least one Willow Warbler. Also scanning across – one more Brimstone and a coupel of Small Whites.

Section 5 next then, from the back end Where The Tracks Join and walking east. It is quiet – no birds to note and just one Brimstone.  But at least two more Southern Hawkers by the Gorse Gap, and then two or three more beyond that. This is easily the most I have ever seen in one session. Makes me wonder where the Hobbies are – this is a feast for them? Also on the menu, a female Common Darter down at the puddle where the West Stream goes under the track. There’s a Blackcap here too, scolding. Tick-tick.

As I wander slowly back up the Broad, where the sun still shines at the junction, a group of birds has arrived similar to that by the birchline an hour ago. At east a dozen charming Long-tailed Tits wheezing and whirring. Nothing unusual among them, until I hear what I assume must be young Siskins calling. Higher up, two birds. One bonus Holly Blue going into the Wood; and yet more Southern Hawkers…!

By the time I have cut up through Q1 again and come out on the grass, it makes me realise that I somehow forgot completely to check the refugia on the west clearfell! How does my head so quickly move from the Grass Snake quest…?

15 August 2020

2020 / 50

05:45 – 08:00
Drizzle and cloud. Overcast, sunnier spells forecast

A Change In The Weather

 

 

The gentle hum of the lightest rain. Wet air, my dad would call it. Mizzle… being a composite of ‘mist’ and ‘drizzle’. Early morning. Wrapped in trees.
There is a hint of freshness, and an uplifting scent of damp grass and pine.
In the morning silence, only the whistle of a hidden Robin and a clucking Blackbird ‘somewhere’ indicate there is birdlife here at all, such is the stillness and reserve of a waiting, uncertain inscape. The birds, like but to a lesser extent than the rest of us, aren’t quite sure…
My first instinct when a large bird breaks cover on my passing is that it’s that cautious Blackbird, but of course it’s not. Almost unbelievably, it’s a Nightjar. A female. She has been roosting in the bracken on the bank somewhere (not sitting on eggs?) and rises gracefully in front of me moving away low and quickly. Then she turns, as if realising she has come out of the door and gone the wrong way, and swoops back within a few feet of me and I watch her go up towards the turning area and back into the trees. I am not familiar with these birds enough to wonder whether this might be a new fledgling… is it too early. Great views though ‘she’ has apparently dark Air-force grey outer primary flight feathers and a beautifully barred tail.

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The Bank at the Top where the NIghtjar was

A short burst of wintersong from the Robin. He thinks its time for the seasonal change. What will that tell the Nightjar…? Everything is confused as the season shift early and overlap with each other.
Flowering heather, and dewdrop cobwebs. Some gather water droplets like marbles in a string back; others string them out like diamante glittering beads between gorse and seed-tipped grass stems. This one hangs vertically in the air, a portal to another dimension anchored by invisible chords of steel. One of Philip Pullman’s “windows”. My footstep is the subtle knife…

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The ‘other world’ I have stepped into is the cooler, morning damp and relatively dark of Q1, the top end of the wayleave. There is already a fidgeting Treecreeper busy in the ‘Pine with Three Trunks’. New mole hills have appeared. Stepping between these and the glittering nets spread out as if to dry in the thick wet grass.
Coal Tits and a Chiffchaff. Invisible birds.

Another transition as I move slowly and carefully through Butterfly Corner to emerge on The Broad. Another portal. This one marked by a bracken curtain of transient colour. Often there are deer out on the track early in the morning, and i have no with to disturb. Despite my best efforts though a young doe startles and skitters off into the Wood, triggering an alarm call from the Nuthatch warden.

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Coming to the crossing, I glance down Velmore first for deer and then up to my left, keeping as far out of sight as I can close to the Yew on the Corner. Out here is a young roebuck grazing. He has not seen me, and when he does our eyes meet for a long moment. Watching me, watching you. He shakes his ears but is not unduly disturbed, and dips his head again to continue grazing at the young shoots of grass coming through on the margin. I love this respect and engagement. Its only half a dozen steps across the intersection of these paths and with stealthy care around three sides of the square I can pass without distressing the confident animal. Nice.

Descending to the clearfell, I become increasingly aware of the silence. I can’t recall ‘hearing’ the Wood as quiet as it is this morning. The track, being dampened by recent rain fall is soft underfoot, and even a clumsy human like me can pass relatively soundless if I cam careful. The still air carries even the tiniest sounds to my ears. Young Goldcrests perhaps? A sound so thin and frail it has no substance and is little more than  breath. A Blackcap calls from a  briar to my left. The rattle of a Blue Tit and another drip-drip Nuthatch. There is, behind all this, a churring…? Yes. The distinct and smile-making familiar song of a male Nightjar. It is 7:10am. The difference now is that I am in no hurry to find him and try to engage. Instead, its background sound, a melancolic charm Calming.

Once at the clearfell, I am inclined to do nothing but stand and listen. To be in the moment and let the morning Wood waken me. A skein of 20 or so Black-headed Gulls move with the slow cloud. Another sign of seasons shifting gently around us.

There are some Beautiful Things on the track.
Moments of Pleasure

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This tiny feather, adorned with raindrops. Bubblewrapped beauty.

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Fragments. Memories of time.
Linger on leaf

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It seems entirely appropriate that I should be able to hear Jackdaws too

8 August 2020

2020 / 49

14:00 – 16:00 (with Southampton Natural History Society)
Baking hot throughout – 30*C clear blue sky and relentless sunshine

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Bird’s-foot Trefoil (Lotus corniculatus)

I am leading a guided walk. Long-planned and much anticipated, but attended by only three members of SNHS. Weather conditions and COVID-19 restrictions probably have an impact on people’s enthusiasm for things like this.

It has been relentlessly hot for days now, and the Wood is dust dry on these summer afternoons.

As much as this serves an an introduction to the site for my guests, it also gives me an opportunity to learn more about some of the the plants and insects here.

I am early, and while I wait by the gate there is a Raven calling from the tall pines opposite. It’s been sometimes since I caught up with these birds, and good to know they are still using the area. The bird is, unfortunately, perched up out of sight…
My eye does catch a glimpse of the Hobby though as it zooms over and swoops quite low into the Wood down Q1. Gone in a flash, and silent. I am optimistic that we may connect with them again as we move round…
A very worn and faded Red Admiral flits down the track ahead of us as we set off, and our first stop is at the top of Q1 where we look at the Buddleia, the Goats Rue (which is just about over) and two Gatekeepers feeding on the Common Fleabane that is flowering here.

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Common Fleabane (Pulicaria dysenterica)

Rather surprisingly, and somewhat to my disappointment, that’s about it for butterflies. We do come across one or two Whites on the clearfell later and a female Brimstone in Section 4, but I was rather hoping to see more than this.

A Sparrowhawk goes over as we are looking at the fleabane, and I take the group down through Q1 and across the stream into the wayleave. There are grasshoppers, crickets and small moths leaping away form us at every step. Two of these are captured briefly, and identified for me and the others:

Capture

This is a male Woodland Grasshopper (Omocestus rufipes), characterised by the distinct reddish underside to the abdomen. Not a common species, and localised in Hampshire. Likes the grass here and the open rides.

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And this macro moth is a Small Fan-footed Wave (idaea biselata) a common species found in woodlands and plantations.

At the side of the track along Section 2, approaching the Crossing, there is a yellow ant nest. One of the group notes a young Common Lizard basking in the heat. Smart reptile, with a greenish grey tail.
Which reminds me it has been sometime since I checked the refugia – those in the wayleave are overgrown, but I should look at the others…

At the Crossing, there is movement high up in one of the larch trees. The sunlight catches a superb Spotted Flycatcher, sitting bolt upright in full view. There are at least two Siskins associating and a couple of Willow Warblers. Bingo – we have found ‘the flock of birds that moves around.
There’s another group similar in the Yew trees on the clearfell, and here we all get to enjoy superb views of two more Spotted Flycatchers! Really pleased to see them here again as they start to pass through the county.
And that chattering overhead draws my attention to a small flock of a half dozen House Martins. Above them, two Buzzards circling.

Shame we couldn’t attract more people, but a very rewarding couple of hours. We arrive back at the gate exactly on time – two hours since setting off

7 August 2020

2020 / 48

05:45 – 08:00
Warm, clear and still. Forecast hot, up to 30*C

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One starts to feel that although the Wood, and the south coast of England generally, is locked in a stubborn summer stalemate, the season is starting to shift around us and autumn is only a few rains away.
Before the sun gets up, it is cool here, and an ‘autumnal’ mist hangs along the stream course in the east clearfell. There is a family of Blue Tits in the bushes facing the dawn, but nothing else yet. Beyond them, in the pines, Coal Tits squeak and a Great Spotted Woodpecker kicks. Chiffchaff ‘hoo-eeting’; Bullfinch mourns. Blackbird chuckles, Nuthatch drips. The regular young Buzzard is squealing from his roost behind me, on the Upper Quarter.

Why did I not take just two minutes to change into my boots before walking down to the stream here in my trainers? They are, of course, old and worn so it isn’t long at all before the heavy dew on the long grass has soaked my feet!
It is true indeed that we each have no worse enemy than ourselves…

Suitably chastised I have changed into welly boots and clean socks,  and now work my way in the opposite direction down towards the southeast corner. The traffic noise is virtually non-existent in these clear conditions. Lovely. A Roe Deer clatters away on my passing; Great Tits teach. Another Nuthatch; Wrens rejoice. Indeed, Wrens are the only birds singing now.
Except for the cascading melody of the Willow Warblers, whose song matches their balletic pirouettes in the sun-kissed tops of the oaks and birch here. Five or six birds perhaps, mixed with Blue Tits, a Goldcrest, a Treecreeper and several unseen Blackbirds. There are also Blackcaps scolding, and a Jay shrieks. Who goes there? I wonder too – but I see no predator. Perhaps it is me, though I doubt that with some confidence. Then a Herring Gull flies over, so that may have caused the first alarm and everyone else just joined in.

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This is the time of year that things can ‘turn up’ and the eye seeks Flycatchers. There is something larger up there, but its not behaving ‘right’. Leaves make clear views difficult but after a few minutes watching movements and rustling, a Garden Warbler appears briefly. Fabulous bird. Slender and more agile than Blackcaps. Lovely big eye and soft expression.
Watching these birds, in the sunlit treetops is a delicate. they are so focussed, so fit for purpose. I am reminded of how limited human movement is. How little we use motion to survive and communicate, to express our selves physically. A bird simply IS that…

For a bird to be
Unfit as I
Is to falter
Fall and die

I come to the clearfell at 06:45, and there is a Firecrest singing somewhere among the Chilworth pines. 3 or 4 more Willow Warblers and a larger, upright bird on a branch but it is hard to see and gone in a flash. Gut says Spotted Fly – held its wings open in a very balletic movement as it came in to perch. Hmmm – no further sign, despite walking up and down the line of trees. I did get good views of a juvenile Great Spotted Woodpecker though, and a Mistle Thrush.

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Risky and difficult, but from the end of the birch line it is a short ‘skuffle’ across the stream bed – dried up and overgrown – up to the High Seat past the BTO feeding station.
And here, all around me in the middle of the serene space, here are the Stonechats.
Light rising; birds calling. chatting, flicking about. Clack-clack. Lovely family – but impossible to see form the track.

On the north side, a silent splendour prevails. Stock Doves drifting, and a young Kestrel on observation duty. There is no air movement, and everything is at peace.

Time to be elsewhere

5 August 2020

2020 / 47

06:30 – 09:00
Overcast and dull, thick low cloud. Wind increasing SW and some blue sky later

Early morning again. At last. The arrival in Southampton Old Cemetery last weekend of two Pied Flycatchers rather woke us all up to the fact that return migration is underway. The short summer-that-never-was is already passing…
Colours here change to further evidence that. The grasses are brownyellow, seeding and beautiful; some of the bracken is already orange or similar gold, glowing like little bursts of fire. Across the clearfell, the Foxglove spikes stand like burned or rusted ironwork, reminiscent of an artwork installation by Anthony Gormley. Or better still, Derek Jarman’s garden at Prospect Cottage in Dungeness. They stand ‘defiantly vertical’ in a large open expanse, in front of an horizon of green leaf canopy that now merges one tree with another and makes the identification  of each individual quite impossible. Only the larges stand upright it seems, taking the eyeline up from the foxgloves into the thick white sky that hangs heavy today, stubbornly resisting the wind.

The oppressive cloud keeps the noise in, and the sound of the motorway traffic is persistent and everywhere. It does not drown out natural sound in the Wood and I have an ear that is not unduly confused by the rumbling – and as the year shifts and stumbles forward, there is no birdsong to be heard now. Instead, the soundscape is peppered and splashed with individual and recognisable calls – rather as the greenbrown of the seasonal grasses are dotted around with the new purple splashes of this year’s Knapweed flowers, the next successional plant to take its turn.
I can hear Chiffchaffs already as I stand at the top of Q1 looking into the east clearfell. The sun is not yet able to fall on the facing edge of the Wood and I can see no birds at all, other than a Crow and one of two passing Woodpigeons overhead. Below tree level, nothing from this stand is visible or moving. But there are Nuthatches awake (I can hear at least two), a Robin, one or two Goldcrests, Long-tailed Tits and a loud ticking Wren.
Towards the Aviva pines, the young Buzzard is squeaking relentlessly. As he comes down from the Upper Quarter, and adult bird – presumably a parent – that I had not seen lifts off from one of the Yews on the clearfell and the pair rise gently away over the Middle of the Wood.

I am in a reflective, sombre mood and the Wood is dry. We share a melancholy that is unbecoming of either of us. There is no water in in the stream course, and none in my rucksack. The bottle I prepared still stands in my kitchen…. The blackberries are gasping for refreshment. The fruits are turning black in the sunlight and warmth of summer, but they remain tiny, hard and unripe.
I am scanning the tree tops and overhanging branches for Flycatchers. there is nothing to be seen. Even bird ‘seeing’ is a challenge at this time of year. I need to find ‘the flock’ – for there will be now the signs of gathering, of coming together. Find one group of birds and you will find them all. I can hear fluttering, and occasional call notes. A Muntjac barks a warning, and leaves are rattled by the breeze.
As I move through Q2 there are Coal Tits to my left, clicking and chatting. A Bullfinch or two, and a tutting Blackbird add themselves to the list. Something flies across ahead of me, drawing my attention to a couple of Great Tits in a silver birch. It’s a Willow Warbler – a nice bright yellow bird, and the softer call is diagnostic. Watching now I can see two or three of the same, and one bird sings somewhere, just for confirmation. Blue Tits, another Nuthatch. Tack tack – Blackcap. Behind me, there is a sudden rush of wind. An eddy – the dynamics of turbulence. I turn, startled, and a small birch tree shudders.

Movement on a larch trunk catches my eye, and just 5m away is a young Nuthatch watching me. For a moment we stare at each other, and then he starts to scuttle upwards – for a second it is so quiet I can hear the sound of his claws scritting on the bark.

I won’t be passing this way again for a while, and not for the Guided Walk I am leading for Southampton Natural History Society on Saturday. The bracken is 8ft high and only penetrable because I know where the path lies. I am well wrapped and pull my coat tightly around me. Ticks are common here but don’t affect me, which is a blessing, but I will get stung and bitten by everything else, and worst of all is an irrational fear of spiders… Eyes down and charge…
At The Bottom is darker and dare I say, cool. Even here the traffic noise hangs in the heavy air. there is no water in either of the two streams, but I am pleased with how well the reeds have colonised the area since I cleared the bramble. They look green and healthy. A Jackdaw passes over, and a then a dozen Carrion crows. They circle tightly and have loud, raucous laughs at my expenses as I now have to negotiate a similar wave of bracken on the far side of Q3. It is a great relief to ‘burst’ through the gorse gap and onto the track beside the clearfell where at least the air is fresh and moving. In fact, the cloud shows signs now of breaking up – the persistent wind is beginning to take the upper hand.

I will walk across the clearfell to the High Seat, to check the bushes along the stream course and the bottom end of the birchline for flycatchers. There is litter, and lots of it, at the bottom of the ladder. Several McDonald’s takeaway bags and the like. Why can’t people take it away? And in fact, why have a McD here – it is at least 15-20 minutes walk to the entrance and surely the food will be cold…?
From the seat, I can hear Chiffchaffs all around, and among the traffic noise I am sure that’s a train? Odd conditions today – I am sure I have not heard a train from here before. Nearest line runs alongside the Airport to Eastleigh?
Two Greenfinches come over, and there’s a handful of Goldfinches down by the feeders. Stock Dove aerobatics, and a loud Green Woodpecker. When did I last have one of those?
Armed with rubbish in two carrier bags, I must now complete my circuit looking like a tramp. I am tired and my spirit is low. My boots and my heart are heavy, my mind troubled and sad. Looking at the ground as I go westward, clouds of tiny white grass moths rise with each step.
And a bird. Oooh, now then…?
There’s a flutter, and that familiar call. My bins come to rest on a juvenile Stonechat, and beyond that a sibling bird and the female parent. At last – the family reveal themselves. It’s a joy to see them, and watch the male swaying in the low breeze from the top of a foxglove spike.

Time feels slow today,  and it is ‘only’ 8:10 as I plod round the track to the South Side – by which time the sun is coming out and the sky more blue than white. There are more Willow Warblers. Three birds – maybe four, or five. Spiralling down the trees, calling, feeding. Hanging upside down and twisting.
I am watching from an area at the side of the track that has recently been scraped to create a scalloped ‘bay’, then surfaced with spoil from the scouring. Grass is coming through, and there’s an early butterfly. In fact two. Closer inspection reveals a ‘roost’ of Gatekeepers and within a couple of feet on two plants there are a dozen. That’s nice. Not something I have come across before.

Last thing I note is a Hobby, high up in a larch at The Crossing. He sees me before I see him though, and only shows briefly in flight. He calls, loudly, and for the rest of my walk back to the car I can hear his persistent yapping.
And then the dogwalkers and joggers arrive…

28 July 2020

2020 / 46

20:30 – 23:00
Mild evening, around 15°C. Clear bright sky. Half moon, waxing gibbous

It seems to have been rather a long time since I came here on my own, and a calm pleasant evening stroll is in order.
To make things easier for myself, every once in a while I park at the bottom of Woodside, taking advantage of my Forestry Commission ‘authorised’ status. Its a rare thing, but a treat occasionally when I am tired.

I have come primarily to have a look for badgers where the new activity is around the hole beside footpath. On my way down here in good evening light, there are two Rabbits at the edge of the field and a Roe Deer grazing at the bottom. The only bird sounds are that of a Wren clicking and ticking away somewhere, and the eerie squeaking of a young Buzzard calling persistently. Very difficult to locate, and in fact I think there are two birds – one in the Wood, and a second over towards the Roughs somewhere – calling to each other?
It is maybe a little early for badgers, and at 20:50 I am – inevitably – distracted by the mystery and endearing magic of the Nightjars when one male starts churring close by. In Marshall’s somewhere definitely. Scuttling round to get a bit closer I think he’s up in one of the ash trees, but his song is brief and intermittent. And then of course further away, up the Roman road cleared area. nice. I have had this bird before, but he’s still around…

The stillness in the Wood walking slowly is engaging and present, drawing into a welcome mindful state. I feel low, and drifting here is good. I am, probably, the only thing moving, and being aware of that moves me slowly, no footfall. The recent scouring has made the sandy track soft underfoot, and I can travel soundlessly.
Just coming up to my favoured watchpoint on the north side, where the track goes into the clearfell, and a Nightjar comes flying out towards me. Head high, circling and purposefully. A female. She is gently ‘çlucking’ and I call back. She banks, hovers and flies around me twice. I can see her eyes, and every detail of her complex and beautiful plumage; we are having a moment, and it is wonderful. I can see the rictal, sensory hairs around her open mouth as she twists; the steel grey outer flight feathers. For a second, this is best view I ever had. It feels personal.
And with a audible flick of her tail and a sweeping, graceful rise, she flies off into the trees. Out of the clearfell?

In her wake, two males are churring now, one somewhere in the middle, and one at the top end, near my sitting spot. I am hooked, and gently move towards the High Seat. It is uncanny, but I feel sure again that one of the birds is checking me out. He has crooned, rattle and hum; clapped and called repeatedly and flies past close – then suddenly banks, hovers and comes right over my head. He sees a perch on the adjacent Yew, and hovers there too, upright, like an angel. We converse. I am speaking aloud to this amazing creature, who has the grace to welcome me here.
As he settles to sing again, and perform one or two of the circling paper aeroplane flights they do, I can hear something else. Odd, as it is by now after 9.30pm “hwee-chuck chk chk” repeated persistently. Down by the stream, and of course – Stonechats!! I can still see reasonably well by the moonlight. Three birds, some distance off. Boy, for a showy bird these can be elusive. I thought I had missed them this year. Wonderful!

And as if celebrating for me, there is the distinct, piercing and welcome yap yap yap of a Hobby away to my left. This Wood is simply wonderful.

But I will not stay long, for it is their time. Within two weeks there will be young hatching. When the moon fills her place in the sky.

For now, and for the next half an hour or so that just glides away into the last of the light, I am watching bats. Long-eared Bats. They fly fast, but direct and level, their wings a blur. So close at times I can here them whirring. This is in the field, watching from the footpath. They are along the edge of the overhanging oak canopy and there are at least four of them

The more I see of this place and its creatures, the more humbling it becomes.
I am a guest in their home, and it is a delight and an honour to be so