23 May 2019

2019 / 50

Butterfly transect week 08

Bright sunny and warm. 20°C with clear skies and small fluffy clouds to the west.
Wind very light 1 south

13:00 – 15:00

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Bracken rising a metre high in the wayleave

Brimstone
At least 10 around the site, 6 on transect and 3 of those in Section 3 (The Crossing)

Holly Blue
At least 5 around the site, all on transect except one. Two in Section 3 (The Crossing)

Speckled Wood
Four around the site – none on transect.

Orange-tip
Just one, the only butterfly recorded in Section 2 (The wayleave) among the bracken, which is rising fast.

Very warm this afternoon, and generally quiet birdwise, as I am now coming to expect at this time of day. Robins and Blackbirds very active feeding young – several of the former seen carrying food:

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Wrens, Goldcrests and Dunnocks all especially vocal; young Song Thrushes have fledged and similarly both Great and Blue Tits are busy; two Firecrests singing today, both on Section 4 of the transect, from the Crossing down to the gorse gap.

Today’s highlight steals the ’60th Species of the Year’ award from the Nightjar (which is here and was heard Tuesday night (21st May) for the first time goes to a rather wonderful little Spotted Flycatcher that I picked up flitting around the birchline at the edge of the clearfell south side. It called a few times too, which is unusual in my experience – a rather thin but persistent wheezy whistle. Despite having my son’s camera today, I spectacularly failed to get any pictures – the bird was constantly moving, and followed me along for a while until I finally lost it in a clump in the southwest corner.
Spring records in Southampton are rare – I had one that was commented on thus two years ago on 19th May.

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“Gossip”

 

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11 May 2019

2019 / 42

20:30 – 22:00

Milder evening, with virtually no breeze and a clear sky. 12°C.

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Moon now waxing first quarter. It is surely time…?

I am in the High Seat by 20:45, having enjoyed watching the sunset coming down the wayleave. It is almost eerily quiet once the thrushes stop singing, although they go on well past the hour. Chiffchaff, Wren and Great Tit too.

From this vantage point, it is possible to watch one or two of the Woodcock cover a greater distance on their circuits, and I think tonight I am watching three birds. One is going round me, each time clockwise, passing close enough for me to see more than a silhouette. One or the other is in the air most of the time.

The hissing noise starts at 21:19.
From a distance, over in the large clump where the feeders and nets are. I hope this is not due to my intrusion last night?
But what is it?
Let’s go and find out…

Steadily across the ridges and furrows, brash and bracken. It’s uneven and hard work even in daylight, and I would never normally dream of doing this. Safe in the knowledge there are no nesting birds on the ground though, and I can pick my way over by moonlight easily enough. The sound is still there, and I am quite close. It must be 20-30 feet away. Voice Recorder app. Go:

https://www.dropbox.com/s/q925let57964849/Recording%20%284%29.wav?dl=0

Whatever is making the sound is moving, and it seems to be coming from various heights, which is confusing me further. Sometimes at ground level, but now above my head in a tree. There’s something else calling too, very near. A dysyllabic ‘yelp’ : kwwp – kwwp”. Something moves to my left and flies off, calling that same two note gentle contact sound. It’s a Tawny Owl, and it is calling incessantly. In fact, there it is, straight ahead, silhouette on a thin branch of Yew!!

So wait a minute. The hissing noise is insistent, but still moving. There are two now, repeating the “psssttt” back to each other like kids in the back of a classroom. And suddenly I’ve got it because I can see more shapes in the tree under which I am standing – Tawny Owl chicks!
Two birds, flapping. One is looking at me, bobbing and staring with great interest. I’m sure i must have gasped aloud in my delight. But the one making the most noise, is in a different tree, slightly further away. I take a half dozen steps in his direction and press ‘Record’. After two minutes, the sound file gets interesting:

https://www.dropbox.com/s/29oynes5ix2agfx/Recording%20%2851%29.wav?dl=0

This owl-ling (owlet?) is utterly charming. He is bobbing too, ducking and weaving. Calling to mum, the parent bird making the contact calls to her young, and circling the clump making sure they are all OK. And he is walking up the thin branch until it starts to bend significantly. He sits at a fork in the branch, and then jumps off, gliding in a wide spiral down out of sight. Falling with style!
It is too dark for me to see anything below the horizon.
And then he’s calling again – from the ground! And moving nearer – presumably walking?
Yes, because, there’s a hop up, the gentlest rustle of holly leaves or something similar, and there he is shuffling along the branch again!
His two siblings urging him on. They lack his confidence, though within a few minutes I realise they too can ‘fly’. One doesn’t move or squeak at all, just sits above my head trying not to be seen until a cue from his mother to move ‘somewhere’.
I record and watch in wonder for ten minutes, and then quietly back off myself, leaving them to their world.

Incredible. 40 years a birder, and until now I have never actually seen Tawny Owl chicks, though I have heard them before. Perhaps these are younger – I certainly struggled to know what on earth I was listening to. I think it was because they were calling the last two nights from the ground that especially threw me.

What an absolutely magical place this is.
It completes and fulfils me.

7 May 2019

2019 / 37

20:30 – 21:30
Overcast and dull, rain imminent. Wind SW 2-3

Weather permitting, this is the first of a week’s evening walks to determine the precise arrival dates for Nightjars. It’s too early just yet, perhaps, but May 12th is not far off now…

Nothing this evening, and no Hobby either, so it was a good opportunity to let the Woodcock take centre stage and have their time. They performed superbly.
First bird flew over the top of the Crossing as I walked down, and I worked out his circuit took in most of this south corner. Over the next hour, I counted 24 roding display flights and spent some time establishing how many different birds that is.
Over the coming days, I should be able to define territories as male birds tend to use the same route for their performance. As well as this one, there are two more along the south side; one that flies N-S along the edge of the clearfell, and another that crosses it diagonally anti-clockwise. There’s a least one that uses the Northern belt, and another over the east clearfell.

Add to this two birds seen together once right in the middle, and then THREE having a low level dogfight in Q3 I would like to think there are certainly six if not 8 birds involved. Great numbers, great show.
And as with a lot of these ‘specialities’, what fantastic quirky and enigmatic birds they are. Impossible to see outside of these stuttering, fluttering, squealing performance pieces. I heard the wings of two birds as they came overhead that close.

Nice to walk slowly tonight with such clarity of thought too, embraced by the safety and assurance of the trees. To be relaxed here in the dark is an especially amazing thing.
Light drizzle exactly as forecast by the time I left, and it has rained heavily all night since. First proper rain for some time.

Thee BATS too, presumably Pipistrelles. Evening butterflies.
Two Row Deer and one Tawny Owl calling down at Marshall’s. There may be good value in watching that side too…?

29 April 2019

2019 / 33

05:50 – 08:15
10°C, but with a strong chilly NW up to force 4. Shifting grey cloud – sunny intervals

Sitting thoughtful
Here with dawn
Watching nowhere birds that
That choose not to use
This vast of sky

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A lot can change in a Wood in a spring week. Flowers and new leaves pushing forth with purpose now – there is a verdant urgency about the place now that lifts my jaded spirit.
I have arrived only 15 minutes after sunrise, and the cloud cover lingers and it still feels dark and rather cold, but the smell of morning is crisp and clean.

A breakfast bowl of birdsong.
Wrens on the delivery shift today – lots everywhere. Occasionally one breaks cover and flies head high, for example, across the track, still in full song.
My pen emits a poetry of its own:

Little Wren
So loud, so lovely
Singing on the wing
between the hidings.
Your voice daytime waking
Beyond your tiny frame
I see you busy
Secret partner – 
We two, the same

I tried to go ‘the other way’ round today, but turned back after a few steps down the track, as it suddenly felt all wrong. Back up at the east clearfell, I am watched all the way by the Roebuck in the middle, accompanied by the additional chorus of Blue Tits, Blackbirds and a Robin. There are two Blackcaps, one each side and a distant farmland Pheasant sounds the 06:00 alarm.
In all today, a careful and deliberate count once again returns 13 Blackcaps – an exceptional population. I have 12 Chiffchaffs too, so very similar numbers of each maintained over two weeks now. It’s more rewarding to hear a Willow Warbler down at Marshall’s – making the diversion worthwhile after the farmland scan failed to revealed anything of interest. Hopefully, this bird will find a partner (if he hasn’t already) and stay to breed successfully this year.

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I love the light on the ash trees here. Arboreal erotica.

At the top of Q2, just as the sun starts to paint the sky bluepink, a Muntjac wanders across, oblivious of me. Duck behind a briar and watch him slowly, smiling. Go well, my little friend… I meet two more deer today, the Roe doe and her offspring crashing about behind the reedbed. They see me, and after a few moments of suspicious eye contact, they bounce off down through the northern belt out of sight.

I’m in Q2, watching the light fall on the grass and noting the ‘splashing’ of white against the green – Rowan flowers and Ground Stitchwort – when the ‘Lapwing and first Cormorant spot’  returns another flyover. Alerted from my daydream state by the call of geese, I look up just as two Greylags disappear behind the treeline and over the farmland. 55th year tick! Blackcaps number 7 and 8 either side- a second heat of sing-offs this morning, and two Chiffchaffs nearby. A third skips across without calling in front of me. Fresh moles hills reverse the cutting back towards the chestnuts.

It is windy today. The stiff, cold breeze has penetrated everywhere, even to ground level. The flowers are trembling and the grass shivers. A calling Siskin hits an oncoming gust and dives for cover in the top of a rustling Larch. There is nothing in the sky.
In the grass, a small yellow flower:

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Another new one for the increasing list – Tormentil (Potentilla erecta). Common enough everywhere across the UK. Rose family, abundant on acid soils, grassland, wooded verges etc. Added another later, as I walked back up the track along the south side. There are more dandelions here than anywhere else in the Wood, and the flora changes uniquely up the slope on the west end back towards the entrance.
Here are the only Bluebells (Hyacinthoides non-scripta) I know of, just a few plants, on each side of the track. Native ones – darker blue, tubular. I love

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Violets among them, which is very encouraging, and closer inspection revealed another tiny blue purple jewel hiding in the grass which I have subsequently identified as Wood Speedwell (Veronica montana). Again, widespread and prolific, not a surprise anywhere – but I am new to flowers.

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By eight
It’s too late
The day’s begun
Birdsong is done

And the last scribbled lines of poetic reflection from this morning’s circuit. Written on the track, south side, in the corner of the wood where the stream makes it muddy:

This hazel
Curved in the wind
Dancing ribbon over stream
Reminds me of her hair
Across my face
From her Hengistbury head

 

22 April 2019

2019 / 32

07:00 – 10:15
Mild 10°C and hazy sunshine. Light Sw, becoming warm and brighter.

I come here today again seeking sanctuary and freedom, the gentle refreshment and awakening of a wood in spring. All around is green leaf, mist, birdsong and contemplative breathing space.
Wrens loudest today, and Robins. Two, three maybe even four male Blackbirds chasing around, flying fast and low across the east clearfell into various clumps. Scolding, agitated alarm calls. I can hear two Chiffchaffs, but at least four Blackcaps. Pause to separate one from the other – but yes, four between the top of the track and the stream. Inspired by such a good start, I make a note to purposefully count the Blackcaps, and on my circuitous route  I note 13 birds. This includes two very active pairs – the first females I have seen in the Wood this year. That compares with 8 Chiffchaffs – Blackcaps outnumbering the earlier arrivals for the first time. Significantly the highest count ever too, having previously recorded high totals of ‘only’ 8 each in 2017 and 2018.

Descending to the stream, there are violets on the right trackside most of the way down. One patch of 40 flowers. They contain in bursts all the way down to the wayleave.

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Approaching the start of transect Section 2, my eye is drawn to the standing water in the ditch at the side of the track. The Bog Beacon (Mitrula paludosa) fungus has flowered again and looks splendid – a rare specimen.
A jogger- in hi-vis orange – nods “Good morning” and continues off down The Broad. A deer barks, just to let everyone know he’s there. In section 2, the apple blossom I saw on Friday has come out in force, but I don’t recall it from last year. And next to this, the first of several flowering Rowan trees (Sorbus aucuparia)

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Chiffchaff, Bullfinch and Long-tailed Tit. Violets among the leaf litter; stichwort and Wood Spurge along the path. Great Tits and Stock Doves. I take a deer path into the firs for a few minutes, and disturb another gang of male Blackbirds.
The softness of young larches – leaves like fur…

Overhead, two Blackheaded Gulls flying north. And – what’s that?? Well, b*gger me – a LAPWING!! Yes, it really is, though I can scarce believe my luck. Unseasonal, and totally unexpected. It’s wonderful when diligent patchwork returns a random record like this. I haven’t seen a Lapwing in or around Southampton for over a year, and to add another bird species to the Hut Wood list is a fine feeling. 78 now – this is the first addition for 2019. It’s not in view for long and soon disappears over the farmland. Smile-making excitement, and my initial gloom is decisively kicked into touch.

Instead of coming out through the Gorse Gap this morning (after a lovely Treecreeper moment at The Bottom by the stream) I choose to cut through the Northern Belt (adding two more Blackcaps) and leave the wood at the Velmore ‘in’ by the outbuildings. There’s a man here with a bonfire. A second, cursory nod.
Magpie (3), Rook / Jackdaw (mixed 100), two hen Pheasants and one male. Pied Wagtail, Blackbird and two Mistle Thrush. A Buzzard takes off from a hedge and moves away. A distant Skylark lifting. two Goldfinches come into the wood, jangling overhead, and clouds of small micro-moths rise up from the muddy track by the gate.

At 9.00am, it’s lovely and warm at Marshall’s. The sun has just risen above the wood, and its light falls on the grass where a Jay is caught rummaging about in the spotlight beam. Also here, the third pair of Robins I have seen together. They all must have young somewhere? Th eAsh trees are still bare, like slim, naked thighs…
There’s ‘something big and clumsy’ cashing about in a Willow at the end of Q4, and I am drawn to check it out. This is how we find flycatchers- but it turns out to be a second pair of Blackcaps. It is grassy here and cooler, and scattered oak leaves lie where they fell on the thick grass. Another Chiffchaff showing well, and the morning’s first Nuthatch.

It’s bright again coming up where the tracks join, and I am shielding my eyes to see. Not up to the viewpoint today, but left from here along North Walk in what could be considered  the ‘wrong’ direction. The Ashy Mining Bees are active earlier than the Tawny ones – they really are beautiful insects. I take some time to inspect the pool, and realise how easy it is to overlook the surviving tadpoles. there are at least 30 still here, hiding in the soft mud and carefully under the floating (and sunken) large oak leaves. Lifting one of these gently, at least a half dozen hurriedly wriggle out. Encouraging.

A Peacock surprises me – an earlier flier. Simon is doing this week’s butterfly transect walk tomorrow (Tuesday) afternoon. Hopefully some of Speckled Wood also on the wing this morning will pass onto his route. I count seven – including three amorous, spiralling pairs. And a Brimstone, later, up at the top of the Crossing by the logpile. The Crossing I note has no violets, or bees, although the former are emerging at the top and along the south side of the track.
The resident male Pheasant is cautiously walking up The Broad towards the fallen tree, and watching him from the Crossing it is a delight to greet a small group (maybe four?) Siskins dropping in.

At back up by the gate, Forget-me-nots, Dandelions and large patches of not-yet-flowering Herb Robert:

Herb Robert is very familiar: it lives with man, much as the Robin flips into his garden and to his back door’ – Geoffrey Grigson, ‘The Englishman’s Flora’

An excellent tally of 35 bird species, 3 butterflies, the Bog Beacon fungus and tons of flowers. Not to mention the Lapwing. A LAPWING!!

Live thy Life,
Young and old,
Like yon oak,
Bright in spring,
Living gold
(Tennyson)

19 April 2019

2019 / 31

14:30 – 16:00

Butterfly Transect Week 03

Bright, sunny and warm 20°C. Wind speed 1-2.
100%  sunshine – only shadow being that cast by trees
Warmest day of the year. Surveying in shirtsleeves

The colonies of Tawny Mining Bees (andrena fulva) are very active today – holes are spreading down the top of the track towards the start of Section 1; and down at the gorse gap on Section 4 they are extending similarly. Two Ashy Mining Bees (andrena cineraria) here today, both walking on the ground and using the clean holes.
In this same area, we came upon half a dozen Bee Flies (bombylius major) on the edge of the track too, flying and resting in the long grass. Charming little creatures – my daughter (aged 23) walked with me today and seemed genuinely delighted to see these.

Of especial interest today though are the large numbers of emergent Green Tiger Beetles 
(cicindela campestris) around sections 4 and 5. Impossible to photograph with my smartphone, and not allowing close approach. A ‘ferocious predator’ that will love the sandy soil and will feed on the larvae of bees and caterpillars

She did well this afternoon, and picked up the first of three newly emerged Holly Blues at the top of Section 1. It proved an inquisitive, approachable little creature and I had the opportunity to get a (poor) photograph of it when it landed on my boot:

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Among the fascinating range of micro-wildlife encounters this afternoon, our highlight was this amazing Common Frog (rana temporaria) that again my daughter saw first, half way along the north track, in Section 5 where we also had 3 Peacocks.
It was in the process of crossing the track from the tadpole ‘pool’ to a similar pool on the other side, murky and full of green algae and weed, and stopped its (slow) progress when we approached. A surprise to see of course, but even more so in the heat of the year’s warmest afternoon.

 

 

Different views show subtle changes of light on the creature’s skin, but this seems like an especially dark individual in my (limited) experience. That can be a response to particularly cold water, or age, but there are also some rare dark morphs. I have invited feedback on the pictures, and welcome more.

Another couple of  ‘flowering plants’ added this afternoon as well. In the trees at the side of Q2 behind my cleared patch there is what appears to be an apple tree that I haven’t notice before:

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And out on the clearfell, two patches of Hairy Bittercress (Cardamine hirsuta) “Lady’s Smock”have appeared, supporting the solitary bee colonies:

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I am learning SO much about the Wood this year.
Ecosystem discovery. Inscape awareness.

Birds today – 3 Buzzards, one Firecrest, 3 Blackcaps and 5 Chiffchaffs. Two Siskins encountered twice. are they breeding somewhere again.

Six butterfly species (35-38 individuals)

Brimstone (Gonepteryx rhamni)
At least 12 present (15 counted), ten on the transect. First butterflies recorded on Section 2, but ones and twos throughout the Wood, moving up and down the woodland edges.

Small White (Pieris rapae)
At least 2 present, both on transect. I think they were this species, but I think I will have to be careful separating these from female Orange-tip…?

Orange-tip (Anthocharis cardamines)
Having got very excited about the first one on the last count, I was delighted to have at least three males today – one at the top in the same place as before, but then TWO others on section 4, including one along the stream where I had my first record. One alighted briefly on a Violet. AT least two others were (probably) females, but as I don’t know these from Small White yet, I need to work more closely on the ID…

Holly Blue (celastrina argiolus)
Always a delight, and the first of the year especially so. My daughter picked this up at the top of the track (Section 1) which is becoming our most productive section in these early counts. A male, which flew within inches between the two of us, and then settled briefly on my boot!! second at the top of Section 4 just past the crossing, and then a third flicking along through the trees between the wayleave and the crossing.

Peacock (Aglais io)
At least 8 present (a reduction in numbers) and 7 of these recorded on transect. One in section 3 sunbathing on brash, then three each on the track in Sections 4 and 5. We almost stepped on two or three of them. Very confiding on the ground.

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Speckled Wood (Pararge aegeria)
Five individuals, but none on transect. Two together and one separate insect on ‘section 6’ between where the tracks join and the scallops at Marshall’s on the west side. Two more, individual ones in Q3 and walking back up towards the wayleave.

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Q1 (looking up to the track) across the east clearfell

18 April 2019

2019 / 30

06:00 – 08:00

Misty, with low thin cloud forecast to clear mid-morning. 8°C and still.
Warming, turning. Forecast for this weekend is warm (20°C +) with clear blue skies.

The season is turning more purposefully now. Summer beckons, hinting, and so spring gains confidence. Overnight temperatures look set to reach double figures for the first time this year, and the wood is blooming in response.
There are Violets now in several sunny patches – the east clearfell, beside the path in Q1 (up to 50 flowers); in my cleared workspace and down into Q2. Wood Anemones too seem to be gaining a foothold, though they are still drooping and asleep at this pre-sunrise hour. Most abundant, and lining especially my passage through the wayleave in Q2 are clumps of Greater Stitchwort, which does seem to wake earlier than the Wood Anenomes. I am carefully watching where I put my feet.
Also on the east clearfell, north-side and screened from view by the large gorse clump, is an extensive patch of Wood Spurge (Euphorbia amygdaloides) useful and encouraging for pollinating insects.

 

Dawn is full of birdsong, rising through the mist. I can separate the voices, but it is impossible to attribute numbers. Counting set aside, I enjoy the harmonics and chorus of Great Tits, Goldcrests, several Wrens. Robins, Blackbirds. Chiffchaff, Dunnock. Long-tailed Tits. Buzzing, busy. Radio interference. My sense of smell awakens here, standing in the midst of morning. Damp, fresh and clean.
By 6.45mist is lifting. Hazy sunshine paints a wash of pinkyblue. Two male Blackcaps, one each side of the wayleave. A third in Q2, where there are maybe 4 Chiffchaffs… one down in the Bowery. A family of Great Tits foraging. Six birds, fretting. Calling, alert.

A noise to the north – gulls screaming. 11 Herring Gulls over the farm. A gang of larey lads. Larus exemplified. Also Pheasant, Green Woodpecker. Nuthatch, Dunnock clicking, clacking – Jackdaws chack-chack-chakking. Magpie (2) several Woodpigeons. A Jay.
The sun is gold foil on a colourless patch of sky, rising slowly and without ceremony.

At the Velmore crossing, the most reliable Firecrest in the Wood is already up and ‘giving it large’ form his court in the dense holly. A plaintive Mistle Thrush behind him.
As life unravels around me, the Wood stays firm. A sanctuary, a place of safety and purpose. rest, restore, recover. One Firecrest awakens another, and they ‘sing-off’ either side of the thick grass carpet. I stand again, converse with them. Seeking counsel and assurance. A Blackcap to my right, and each slow, considered footstep between the cobwebs gives rise to a flurry of tiny white and greybrown micromoths.
There are two Coal Tits in the grass, and last year’s encounter comes to mind. they like to feed in the morning on tiny spiders.

Thus Coal Tits becomes bird-of-the-day. Numerous from here, busy and delightful. From the High Seat, I watch a pair busy feeding in a Yew. Wing-flicking, calling. Together.

Deer prints in the mud by the Bottom Stream, and more violets on the rise towards the gorse gap. Another area perhaps worth clearing?

At the Gorse Gap today, emerging to the clearfell, the air is full of traffic noise. It drones and rumbles from the east and south. the Airport sounds closer than ever as a jet take =s off. It’s 7:15 when I climb to the High Seat, and sit watching a young deer that has not seen me. It is chilly up here, and the steel is cold on my hands.

There is an absence of finches. A calling Chaffinch draws this to my attention, and over the next half hour a single Goldfinch jangles over, and later – on the way – back round the south side, one of the male Greenfinches starts to sing. A Grey Heron cronks over, deep wingbeats. Bouyant and fast. A Buzzard mews away unseen.

Heather. There is heather on the clearfell. I have walked from the High Seat due west across the planting to the viewpoint, stepping between the formative Foxglove clumps. Several different kinds of moss and pretty lichens.

Moving out of the wood, along the sun-glazed south track, there’s a Firecrest opposite the hornet’s nest, and both Blackcap and Chiffchaff in the middle of the wood. Six or seven CCs again today – but one or two more Blackcaps. Similar numbers now – maybe six of each. And a new site for singing Firecrest, in the southeast corner. Where I notice there is also another tent. And more violets.

32 bird species.
4 flowers. More if I get my eyes open I am sure.

Butterflies next…

 

 

14 April 2019

2019 / 29

0600 – 0800
Cold, after overnight frost. 3°C. Clear and bright, overcast later.

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Frosted spring morning at the East Stream (Q1)

 

Mist hanging over the east clearfell. It is cold here this morning, chilling my nose and my toes. Birdsong filters through the morning, tinkling like water over stones.
Blue Tits, Wrens; Robin, Blackbird.
There is a fragile delicate peace, embodied in the softness of the ice crystals on new leaf.

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A single Crow patrols, and the Stock Doves display with the exuberance of Bright Young Lovers. In Q1, I wait and watch for the Treecreepers, and they do not disappoint. Calling, chasing. Moving up the pine trunk with murine agility and a speed that challenges the eye. Never still, but always wonderful. It is odd this year that these have become relatively easy, and the Woodpeckers have disappeared. The only pair I know of must be busy and keeping low, as once agin today they are not ‘on the list’.

Instead, on the circuit, I count warblers, still vainly hoping that spring migrants here one day will choose to drop in here. They steadfastly avoid the Wood. Perhaps its the location – traffic barriers on two sides? This morning, as it seems now regularly, my route turns up four Blackcaps and no more than seven singing Chiffchaffs.

Three Song Thrushes; one Mistle Thrush (in the North Belt behind Q4) and at least three Dunnocks. There are two more territories on the clearfell. Robins and Great Tits busy here too, and more Stock Doves ‘parasoling’ overhead. The Nightjars of spring.

Mallard are becoming regular here and there must be a pair locally. This morning, they are low over the wayleave, calling to one another as the zoom northwards.
There’s an early Firecrest vocal atthe Velmore crossing. And as I stand here I can hear also a Pheasant on the farm, and two quarrelsome Jays.

Its about light today. Transformative beauty as the sun strengthens and the mist clears.
Like an ascendant searchlight this morning, scanning the larches and colouring the sky. Beams of light cut through the middle of the wood forming rare diagonals in an inscape otherwise of horizons, canopies and vertical tree trunks.
On the south side, on my way out, I see the birches have turned to face the sun, to feel its warming energy on new growth. Utterly beautiful, long slow light

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The merchant bows unto the seaman’s star, 
The ploughman from the sun his season takes, 
But still the lover wonders what they are 
Who look for day before his mistress wakes. 
Awake, awake! break thro’ your veils of lawn! 
Then draw your curtains, and begin the dawn! 
(“Aubade” – Sir William Davenant, 1657)

6 April 2019

2019 / 26

05:50 – 09:00

Beautiful morning, if still a little chilly, but up into double figures by the time I got out onto the track. Light S/SW breeze.

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If you are going to come here without a notebook, at least try and write things up the same day! So much happens in life away from the Wood that I find it too easy to distract and forget…

But for now it is still dark, and the air is full of birdsong. It trickles through pre-dawn like water over stones. Half an hour before sunrise. Wrens and Blackbirds dominate. Two, maybe three Robins, Song Thrush. Goldcrest and Great Tit.
The crows and pigeons are up first, commuting between roost and feeding stations.
It will be a while before I see any other birds.

Walking slowly past the christmas trees. Mistle Thrush and the morning’s first Chiffchaff. A Dunnock. Away over the farmland, a pheasant, the first of three.

Dog is enjoying the freshness of the air, sniffing the morning, head held high. Rolling in the damp grass. Dashing back and forth in the wayleave Q2 like a possessed demon. Smiling, breathing vapour, tongue lolling out. He hasn’t seen the Muntjac I am watching, crossing cautiously 50m ahead of us. A second follows.

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In the clearfell, there are more Roe Deer than I have previously seen here together. At least 8, grazing on the new stock. FC still have work to do! Each in turn turns its head to look at us. Dog is watching them, but he won’t go unless I give the OK. Nice to see him relaxed. I think he feels as much ownership of this Wood as I do.

We are drifting now. No pace, no itinerary.

Bathing
In the beauty of a place
There is silence
Mist and shimmering

Nature-cradled, I can rest. relax and breathe. Freedom and acceptance.
There is intense volume in the tiniest voices of Treecreeper and Firecrest. Unconcerned, accepting. The still, small sounds of calm.

“Amid fresh fern and forest smells
They cast the sweetest, softest spells

Enchanted, intoxicating
April morning slowly waking
Hidden mousebird nestball making”

I have found time.
It lies among bracken and greening trees
In the morning’s mysterious sleeves

and by 7.30 I have come to my seat. The sky is orangeblue, latticed vapour trails; the sun a flat, pink disc.

Most of an hour slowly evaporates, watching only Stock Doves, Jays and shifting, drifting light. A few finches. And then they come – the Redpolls. Chirrrring, trrilling. 20 birds at least. Bouncing, fluttering, into the birchline.

There is ALWAYS something.

1 April 2019

2019 / 25

14:30 – 16:30

Butterfly Transect 01

Bright, sunny and warm 16°C. Wind speed ‘2’. Light E breeze.
100%  sunshine throughout, apart from tree shadow.

with Simon Holloway, FC Beats Officer (and ecologist)

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Early dog-violet (Viola reichenbachiana)

A different kind of walk, and so perhaps a different kind of commentary.

One of the most interesting, rewarding and utterly splendid times I have ever spent here.
Simon is becoming a good friend, an inspiring mentor, and an informative teacher. His endorsement has done wonders for my confidence and assuredness here, and my love for the place is infectious back the other way. It is becoming what I hope can develop into a purposeful and mutually rewarding relationship.

Walking a butterfly transect has to be done slowly. 2 km/h, with eyes focussed intently on a 5m radius in front of the observers. I need to learn this, but it won’t be hard. Butterflies are remarkably easy to miss. We did extremely well today:

Peacock (Aglais io)
At least 11 present, 8 recorded on transect. 3 in Section 1 at the top of the track, and 5 together in sections 4 and 5. Almost all were grounding, for either moisture or minerals, then sunbathing to absorb energy and we practically stepped on quite a few!
As we came over the West Stream towards the end of Section 4, we had a ‘swarm’ of FIVE in the air together, chasing one another. Fabulous. They seemed to just ‘disappear’ but we have concluded these were the same we then saw individually spaced out along the north side of the Track throughout section 5.
They have a distinct ‘jizz’ and fly with flat wings a lot. I think they resemble small bats.

Brimstone (Gonepteryx rhamni)
At least 4 present, two on the transect. One at the top in Section 1, and one up by the Crossing on the south side in Section 3 as expected, but more than 5m from the line of recording. One more down on Section 5, and then I had a fourth at the back down by Marshall’s.

Comma (Polygonia c-album)
At least 3 present, only one on transect. Up at the top end of the track, in the Upper Quarter on the grass. So actually NOT on transect. An ‘incidental’ record. I had two together later on in the scallop at the back of Marshall’s.

Small White (Pieris rapae)
2 present, both on transect. After the first Peacock at the top, our next butterfly was a small white in the Upper Quarter, flying some distance and at some speed through the trees, alighting briefly on a holly. The second went through the ‘gorse gap’ into Q3 of the wayleave, flying ahead of us as we walked back along Section 5

Skipper sp
One recorded, on Section 3 towards the top of the Crossing. Surprising record, and quite early. I think probably Large Skipper (Ochlodes sylvanus) – very ‘triangular’ and ‘orange’, but it rose high from the grass and over the trees very quickly.
Edit (2nd April) Two sources suggest instead this could have been one of the Orange Underwing moths. Too early for Skipper?

Speckled Wood (Pararge aegeria)
One recorded, but not on transect. It was in the north west corner as I was leaving, up by the rabbits.

Also in this area, almost predictably, the season’s first singing Willow Warbler (2019 = 52). Interesting that these beeches on the NW corner have turned up the first Willow Warbler for the last three year’s. Could it be the same bird. Philopatric (Robert Macfarlane). 10 Chiffchaffs, two Blackcaps, 3 Buzzards and 2 Ravens. I expect they have young in the nest now.

We alos recorded one Common Lizard, but of course it was little more than a rustle in the leaves. At the top of Q2, in butterfly corner. Simon has exceptionally good ears. His increased awareness also rewarded us with fine views of a grazing Muntjac, two Roe Deer and – best of all – a Wren’s nest with young at the bottom of a tree stump on the Crossing. there is something to be said for doing a small section SLOWLY…!!!

I think though perhaps the highlight today was his expression of delight at my raking and clearance work, most especially because of the plants that have ALREADY come up since Friday. There are two Wood Anenomes in flower and several other leafs around the area:

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The most encouraging sign of all today though is the evidence that Early dog-violet (Viola reichenbachiana) are starting to re-appear.  After seeing the first on eon the top of the track some weeks ago, it has not been until today that we have been able to find others. The new cleared patch has a few leaf patches, and there are half a dozen flowers among the wood chips and grass. The picture at the top of this post indicates further that there just might be some Fritillary caterpillars around – they eat the leaves of Violets, and these have clearly been well nibbled. There may be other butterflies that do that, but violets are essentially food source for Fritillaries in particular It was great to see Simon so excited, and to know that my raking method was approved. We have identified three other sites to work on together, starting perhaps even next week.
There is another patch – quite extensive, at the top of Q1 coming down towards the East Stream. This lovely area today was full of bee flies and bumble bees too – Buff tailed queens. All very fabulous indeed.
Before that, contractors will be in to move two fallen trees, as well as cut some more down on the north side to block the equestrian’s entrance. FC are keen to keep them out of the Wood, and he had stern words for the two girls we met this afternoon. There is a further plan form the Land Agent team to monitor the response to the blockage. If it is cut or moved, there is cause for further action.

More points of interest this afternoon: I can now readily identify Wood Spurge – an evergreen flowering plant that seems to be welcome, and there is a larger stand of Blackthorn in Q2 than either of us noticed before, well back from the cut area towards the deer path; new hawthorn and beech leaves make an excellent green salad, and a Mole has visited my cleared patch too.

Learning is a delight. Look at this beauty.
My eye was caught by the most vivid green leaf among ivy, bramble and dead bracken.
An emerging beech ‘oyster’ – the birth of a new tree. Utterly exquisite:

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And bees. There is a colony of Mining Bees at the top of the track, that will not welcome being walked on. Lots of the insects flying around at low level:

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Finally, there is this fungi, growing on a beech stick decomposing in standing water where the wayleave crosses the track. I haven’t managed to identify it yet:

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Edit (2nd April)
They are Bog Beacon (Mitrula paludosa). This fungus only appears in spring and is common in the New Forest but rare around Southampton, regularly reported only from Lords Wood.
(Phil Budd)

Finding myself
Among violets and bees
Losing myself
In birdsong and trees
Peace and all good
In my wonderful Wood