Nesting Season

As I’d been hoping, the peregrine falcons nesting in the a clock tower in Bournemouth laid their first eggs this week. The first was laid sometime in the early hours of the 16th March.

C7I0uZ1W4AA19xF

Then a second egg was laid at some point on the 18th March.

C7OerAEX0AAi7ur

Peregrines usually have a clutch of 3-4 eggs so I would expect one more egg to be laid in the coming days. The eggs should begin to hatch around about the 20th April. Getting these glimpses of the eggs was tricky as the majority of the time the mother has been sat on the eggs, keeping them warm.

C7IoCgHXgAAxHMw

Meanwhile I’m really excited to have another nest to be able to share with you and this one is very close to home. Some Collared Doves have decided to nest on the bracket of our satellite dish!

DSCN3181

This is surprisingly a common place for this species to nest. Collared doves are one of the few species that benefit from living close to humans. They actually only nested in the UK for the first time in 1956 and the nest then was heavily guarded. Satellite dishes are actually decent nesting sites as they are well away from predators and if their is bird food around then there is a ready supply of food- like we have in our garden.

The position of the dish means it is very close to one of our windows which means from the right spot we can see directly into the nest.

DSCN3157

As you can see there are two eggs in the nest. This is the usual clutch size of collared doves and their may be as many as nine clutches in a year! They take about 14 days to hatch but I’m not totally sure when these were laid- hopefully they will hatch successfully and we will have some chicks within the next two weeks.

When I’ve been out and about this week I’ve seen lots of birds singing and displaying. The breeding season is here and as a result birds are suddenly very visible and audible. Here are a few of my favourites:

DSCN3130
Blue Tit
DSCN3166
Robin
DSCN3131
Little Egret (with a particularly long plume)
DSCN3168
Great Crested Grebe

This week I’ve noticed that the wood anemones (Anemone nemorosahave come into flower.

DSCN3154

For most of the year these plants are not visible- they are just ‘rhizomes’, a sort of lumpy root under the soil. In early Spring they grow out of the ground and flower from now until May. They are actually ineffective at spreading via seeds and mostly spread through their roots which is why you can get carpets of wood anemones in some woodland.

Finally, let’s end with a fungus!

DSCN3164

I’ve been all through my fungi book but still have no idea what this is. It looks spectacular though!

If you want more regular updates on the peregrines and collared doves then you can follow me on Twitter @dangoeswild1. You can also find the peregrine webcam here– I’ve just watched the male feed a pigeon to the female!

Primroses and Peregrines

Spring is so very close now and the temperature is starting to reflect this. We seem to have spent much of the week here trapped in mist which doesn’t feel very spring-like at all.

DSCN3092

I found these wild primroses (Primula vulgaristhis week. The colour of the flowers vary but these are the more common pale yellow colour. The name comes from the old French ‘primerose’ meaning ‘first rose’, highlighting the fact it is one of the earliest flowering plants of the year. Despite the name it bears no relation to true roses.

Not far from these primroses I spotted this grey squirrel munching on something on top of a fence.

DSCN3093

It is likely that this squirrel has recently had a litter of young, or is about to. Grey squirrels usually have two litters a year, the first around February/March and the second around June/July. This is likely to be a male squirrel as females are probably with their young in the drey at the moment. Male grey squirrels do not form pair bonds so don’t worry about looking after their young, hence why this individual looks so relaxed!

My other mammal spot of the week were the Avon roe deer. They appeared to be very relaxed when I saw them today, sat on the grass.

DSCN3113

Here we can see a female (doe) and a male (buck). This particular doe caught my attention as she is unusually pale for this herd of deer. The colour of the buck is typical for the deer I’ve seen by the Avon but this doe is much lighter. It’s always interesting to see the natural variation of animals, especially when they are likely to have fairly similar genetics. This doe should be easy to identify so I shall name her Sandy and look out for her in future.

I’ve been eagerly awaiting by first butterfly of the year and it appeared today. I didn’t get a great view so couldn’t be sure on the species but from my limited view and the time of year it seems likely it was a brimstone.

I also saw my first moth of the year yesterday, sat on a fence post on the cliff top in Bournemouth. It’s probably a Common Plume moth but is certainly a member of the plume (Pterophoridae) family.

DSCN3099

Whilst I was in Bournemouth I also had a look for the peregrine falcons that nest in the clock tower of Bournemouth and Poole college. There were plenty of pigeons around the building, an excellent source of food for the peregrines, but no sign of the falcons themselves. Fortunately there is a handy webcam of their nesting eyrie.

C6t_UadWwAArnXH

This screenshot was taken this morning where the falcon appeared to be tidying up the nest. Last year the female falcon laid the first eggs in the early hours of the 15th March. If that’s typical then we can expect the eggs to be laid this week! The pair of peregrines successfully raised three young in 2016, two males and a female- with any luck they will do just as well this year.

I shall be keeping an eye on the webcam and will be eagerly awaiting the eggs. You can do the same on this link.

Deer and Daffodils

It’s been a wet start to March here in Hampshire. The lawns and fields are waterlogged and the streams are as high as they ever get. All this means it’s been really tricky to get outside and photograph wildlife. Nonetheless I’ve been out between rain showers to see what I could find.

The local daffodils are looking at their best right now. It’s often hard to work out whether some daffodils have been planted or are wild but to me it doesn’t really matter.

dscn3089

Daffodils are scientifically known as narcissi, members of the narcissus genus. There are thousands of different varieties thanks how much they have been bred over the centuries. The narcissus genus developed around 24 millions years ago in the Iberian peninsula.

A less familiar flower I’ve spotted this week is the sweet or English violet (Viola odorata).

DSCN2997.JPG

This flowers blooms much earlier in the year than other members of the family and is often found at the edge of woods and in clearings- I found it on the edge of the path in the wooded area next to the fishing lake.

I was pleased to see two great crested grebes on the fishing lake this week.

dscn3009

They didn’t show much interest in each other but as you can see they were close together. Last year I didn’t see a second grebe on the lake until May so perhaps there is a better chance of the birds breeding this year.

The lake mallards are often seen in groups of up to five in the winter but over the last few weeks they have paired off, like the couple below.

dscn3004

The number of starlings in the garden has increased over the last few weeks- there is often more than twenty on the lawn or in the trees.

dscn3029

They are always aggressive to each other and noisy but they are worse than ever right now. They spend so much time fighting that they hardly get to spend any time actually eating. I’ve also noticed how shiny and colourful they are looking at the moment.

In between the rain today I headed to the river Avon, where the floodplains are considerably wetter than they were a week ago. This didn’t seem to bother the mute swans though as it provided a bonus feeding opportunity.

dscn3082

With few people around due to the rain, the roe deer had ventured very near the path today giving me an unprecedented clear view at two different bucks. From the antlers I think this buck is probably two years old and was with a doe which was obscured by trees.

dscn3087

I also saw this older buck which is probably at least three years old.

dscn3067

As you can see this buck has quite a gash on its lower neck, possibly from the rutting season. You could see it a little more clearly when it was having a clean:

dscn3074

The wound looked like it had healed other than the fur and the buck seemed perfectly healthy. The roe deer are fairly shy but this one wasn’t bothered by me being so close to it at all.

 

The Ringwood Waxwing

There’s one bird that I’ve been desperate to see in recent weeks, the waxwing. A few weeks ago a whole flock appeared in Poole but they unfortunately turned up on the day my MOT was due. I went and had a look but I missed them and didn’t have time to hang around. This week though I was delighted to discover online that a single waxwing had been spotted on my patch, right here in Ringwood!

dscn2937

Isn’t it stunning? This bird was found at the back of one of the churches and could be viewed easily from the public car park behind it. It was on this tree for most of the week and seemed to be enjoying eating the ornamental apples. They are more often seen in flocks but this one seemed to have got separated.

dscn2913

Waxwings mostly reside in Scandinavia and Russia but visit the UK every few years in ‘irruptions’. They come here in the winter to feed as the current berry crop in their breeding grounds cannot support the population. This suggest there’s a poor berry crop this year or there was an exceptionally good one last year, allowing for a more successful breeding period.

Whilst I haven’t seen anything else as unusual this week I have spotted a couple of interesting pieces of bird behaviour. On the open fields by the River Avon I saw these two cock pheasants squaring up to each other.

dscn2961

Male pheasants are very territorial, and will fight each other when necessary. They have a sharp spur on their back of their leg for such a purpose. This encounter didn’t quite go that far- maybe a little aggression was enough or they deemed a fight unnecessary so early in the year. It is interesting to note the colouring of the individual on the left here. It’s far darker than a standard pheasant and lack the usual white stripe so it’s likely to be some sort of hybrid.

Crows seem to be very active at the moment and I’ve been able to see first hand how opportunist they are. This one found what looks like a rabbit carcass, likely caught by a buzzard or a fox, and was enjoying a good meal.

dscn2941

Yesterday I was walking along the Avon and was surprised to see these two crows stood in the middle of the river. The water is very shallow at this spot but it still seemed odd.

dscn2969

You can clearly see here how the crow has a stone in it’s beak. I can’t really find any information on why it might be doing this but I’ve come up with a few theories. This is a spot where lots of birds like to feed, such as little egrets and a green sandpiper. That suggests that there’s lots of food here so maybe the crow is moving the stones to uncover invertebrates to eat, like a turnstone.

The other possibility is that this is some sort of gift for the other crow, a potential mate. Plenty of bird species do give seemingly random objects to potential mates and I found anecdotal evidence that crows in captivity have presented stones to humans. If anyone reading agrees on my theories or has a better idea please do let me know.

I visited Moors Valley Country Park this morning and caught a glimpse of something in a hole by the river. By the time my camera was on it, this water vole emerged.

dscn2989

It then sat near it’s hole and munched on some grass.

DSCN2993.JPG

Water voles are the UK’s fastest declining mammal so it’s also brilliant to see one. They seem to be doing well on the Moors River with lots of holes along a long stretch of the river.

The Hungry Heron

It suddenly feels a lot like Spring. The temperature is booming, around 13 °C here today. There are buds in the trees, recording stations have detected the thrushes starting to head North again and there are Sand Martins in West Africa on their way North too.

You may remember a few weeks I was talked about the grey heron that seems to be spending its time on the grassy floodplain of the Avon rather than on the river itself. It’s now become very clear exactly why it is doing this as I saw it catch and eat a rat.

dscn2817

It’s easy to imagine that herons only eat fish but they are happy to eat any prey they can get their beaks on. This must be a sizeable meal for a heron and it appeared to be an easy find so it’s no wonder the heron is spending it’s time here at the moment! This second photo shows just how big a meal it was as the heron struggles to swallow it.

dscn2818

Nearby on the river itself this little egret didn’t seem to having much luck when it came to hunting.

dscn2811

I haven’t seen much of the roe deer lately- they put in an appearance last weekend and were very busy eating.

dscn2807

Over the last fortnight I’ve seen a few birds which are unusual for my patch. None of them are especially rare but they are birds I’m not accustomed to seeing around here.We do get the odd jay locally but this is the first time I’ve managed to capture a really clear image of one.

dscn2815

Jays are the most beautiful of our corvids, with the lovely pink colour and the stunning blue section on the wing. Like other corvids they are very intelligent and have apparently been recorded being able to plan for future needs and being able to take into account the desires of their partner when sharing food in the courtship ritual.

A more unusual spot was this treecreeper. There are probably a few around in the area but they are a challenging bird to spot.

dscn2849

I watched this individual as it went about it’s usual behaviour. Treecreepers forage up the tree, working in a spiral around the trunk, and then fly to the bottom of another tree to repeat the process.

The biggest recent surprise was when I stumbled across a whole flock of meadow pipits.

 

Meadow pipits are generally found towards the North and the West of the country but move south in the winter, which probably explains why I saw them here. The name pipit comes from the sound it makes and this species used to be known as things like ‘chit lark’ ‘tit lark’ and ‘titling’.

In pretty much the same place as the pipits I saw a pair of stonechats today. I do sometimes see them towards the east of my patch, close to the New Forest, but they were the furthest west and closest to the town centre that I’ve ever seen them.

 

I’ve seen plenty of the local buzzards over the last few days. Yesterday there was on it’s usual fence post.
dscn2871

Then today I saw a pair engaged in what I think was a mating ritual. It was very tricky to take photos but you can see the two birds here.

dscn2885

Buzzards engage in their mating ritual ‘before the beginning of spring’ which would today perfectly. It certainly looked like how a buzzard mating ritual is described. The male rose high up in the sky to then turn and plummet downwards in a spiral. Buzzards mate for life so it is likely these are the parents of the young birds which were in the area last summer. It must somewhat ruin the romantic moment when some crows start getting in the way though…

dscn2890

Blashford Beauties

On Friday I had a day off so I headed over to Blashford Lakes for my first visit of the year, knowing it would be fairly quiet there. I could tell it was going to be a successful visit when I got out of the car and immediately saw a redwing.

dscn2685

Because it was so quiet I had plenty of opportunities to get some decent shots of some of Blashford’s waterfowl. Here’s a shoveler, a wigeon and a gadwall.

dscn2691

dscn2777

dscn2781

The Woodland Hide is really busy at the moment with birds in every nook and cranny. The most common bird at the feeders on this visit were siskins but there were also lots of goldfinches around too.

dscn2762

Amongst all the chaos there are a few birds you don’t see at feeders quite so often, like some long-tailed tits and a nuthatch.

dscn2753

dscn2757

I was really pleased to see not one but two species of bird which are new to me. The first was the reed bunting.

dscn2717

As the name suggests, reed buntings are normally found in wet vegetation but in Winter they do stray further afield to find food. It’s not really very far from the reedy banks of Ivy Lake to the woodland hide anyway. These buntings seemed to avoid going anywhere near the feeders themselves, instead grabbing pieces of dropped food off the floor.

The other new bird to me was the brambling. Unfortunately both individuals stayed exactly where the reflection in the window was so I ended up with an obscured photo.

dscn2719

Bramblings are members of the finch family and there was a male and a female bird in the area. This male was frankly one of the most vicious small birds I have ever seen. Whilst it did pop onto the feeders as above, it was mostly found on the ground. Every time any other bird came vaguely near it this individual would chase them off which seemed like a waste of energy given just how much food was available.

Just outside the woodland hide I found these stunning scarlet elf cap fungi.

dscn2693

Whilst many fungi go appear in the autumn, different species grow at different times of year- the scarlet elf cap grows in late winter and early spring. There’s debate about how edible this species is which suggests that it won’t kill you but probably isn’t very tasty. Unless you are a rodent of course as this is a handy source of food for them in winter.

Just outside the reserve I saw a welcome sign that Spring is on it’s way, a group of snowdrops.

dscn2690

We may think of snowdrops as a native British flower but they aren’t! It was brought over from Europe in the early 16th century and wasn’t first recorded as naturalised until 1770. It’s a hardy little flower which can emerge through snow and it can spread in a variety of ways- from offsets of the bulbs, animals disturbing the bulbs, through floodwater and through dispersal of seeds.

Winter Waders

Today I visited the fantastic Lymington-Keyhaven nature reserve for the first time this year. I was really pleased when I arrived to discover that the tide was out.

dscn2650

With the mud uncovered, the area was full of waders scraping around for worms and other food. The photo below gives you some idea of the large numbers of birds out on the mud- the longer you look the more birds you can see!

dscn2660

I always find identifying these small waders difficult. They are all ‘little brown jobs’, especially at this time of year. I think though that the majority of the birds here were sandpipers.

dscn2663

There were also a few ringed plovers in amongst these birds- despite their relative scarcity you seem to almost be guaranteed to see a ringed plover at Lymington-Keyhaven.

dscn2649

A bird of a similar size which I saw was this turnstone, in its winter plumage at the moment. Unlike most of the other birds here the turnstone finds its food by rummaging amongst the stones and seaweed rather than sticking it’s beak in the mud.

dscn2669

Most of the bigger birds stick closer to the shoreline, like the oystercatcher, redshank and little egret below- the latter of which was really being buffeted by the wind!

dscn2657

dscn2671

dscn2652

I was pleased to see a handful of curlews out on the mud. It’s the UK’s largest wader and uses that long curved beak to drag worms out of the mud.

dscn2682

As well as waders, there were plenty of waterfowl around. The most numerous today were teals, on both the marsh and the Solent.

dscn2641

Unlike my last visit there were hardly any wigeon present, just this small group.

dscn2639

There were several shelducks on the Solent, which look really beautiful at the moment.

dscn2679

My final species of the day is the brent geese, of which there was a large flock on the marsh.

dscn2633

Brent geese are winter visitors to the UK. They are vegetarian and particularly like eel-grass. There are two distinct sub-species, light-bellied and dark-bellied- I think these are light-bellied. They probably come from the Taymyr Peninsula in Northern Siberia and fly all the way down here for the Winter.

Joyful January Wildlife

The week began rather gloomily here with three days of thick fog smothering the area. I took a photo of the fishing lake to demonstrate:

dscn2553

It has since cleared and the temperature has finally warmed up a little. An interesting new resident, or at least one I haven’t noticed before, is this canada goose.

dscn2541

As you can see, this individual has unusual plumage on its head. On canada geese the black on their necks continues over the top of the head and then connects to the beak over the eye. There’s a hint of black above the eye but otherwise this is a very white-headed goose. It’s possible that this is just temporary but if permanent it’s unusual. It’s possible that this individual may be the result of crossbreeding between different geese species or it could simply be natural variation.

The fantastic BBC programme Winterwatch has been on this week and one of the most interesting features was the amazing starling murmurations over at Studland Bay. Studland Bay is about a fifty kilometre drive from here in Ringwood but as the starling flies it’s only twenty-five kilometres (over Poole Harbour). The BTO’s ringing programme shows us the remarkable distance starlings can travel (see here) so it seems possible that the starlings I see in the garden could well be part of these huge murmurations 25 km away!

Here’s a video via YouTube of the Studland murmuration:

I had a lovely walk by the Avon today and got very close to this grey heron.

dscn2584

I’ve noticed lately that the herons seem to be found on the grass near the river rather than on the river shore. The river level remains very low in places, especially for winter, and I suspect that the herons are struggling to find much food in the shallow water, instead finding things in the grass. There is a lot of rain forecast for this week which might be good news for the herons.

There was also a little egret stood in the middle of the river today. It didn’t seem to interested in hunting though.

dscn2583

You can clearly see here how low the water level is. Usually at this time of year you wouldn’t even be able to see those stones through the water but at the moment they are really exposed.

I also got really clear views of one of the Avon roe deer family. I most often see does but today I saw this buck.

dscn2601

Roe deer have fairly weedy antlers compared to other British deer. It’s still fairly early in the year so it’s difficult to age this buck yet. It’s clearly at least two years old though as the antlers have a secondary branch. Roe deer antlers take around four months to grow so hopefully later in the year I’ll see a fully developed set.

I’ve noticed a few more signs of Spring this week- all over the area hazel trees are producing fresh catkins.

dscn2551

I even noticed some new fern growth on one of the old railway bridges. Being a bridge there are not trees to block out sunlight and the metal probably traps the heat, giving these plants strong conditions to grow even at this early stage of the year.

dscn2574

Finally, here’s a photo of a singing chaffinch that I was pleased with.

dscn2608

Cold Creatures

It’s been another cold week here with frosts every day- I think we’ve had more frosts this week than we had over the whole of last winter! It’s cold enough that a large portion of the fishing lake is frozen over. It’s largely surrounded by trees so only the more open end and a section in the centre near the island are ice-free at the moment.

dscn2486
Hard to show clearly but I think you can see the ice here

Of course this creates challenges for the lake’s residents. The birds are forced into the few ice-free areas if they want to sit on the lake as normal. The great crested grebe managed to find a quiet spot but the canada geese and mallards have been crowded into one small area.

dscn2480

dscn2516

The geese and mallards have most commonly been seen on the island at the moment. The geese have even ventured a little way in rather than sit right on the shore as usual. I guess this is the warmest place to be-it’s South facing meaning it catches more sunlight and the trees probably trap a little of the heat too.

dscn2513

The black-headed gulls are less bothered by the ice though and seem to be using it as a handy place to stand. I even noticed a herring gull joining them today, which is unusual on the lake.

dscn2537

After a few week’s absence the green sandpiper was back on it’s stretch of the Avon this weekend. The running water means it doesn’t have to worry about any ice here.

dscn2502

I also spotted our neighbourhood buzzard Mary yesterday too, perched on a telephone pole. She seems to prefer to sit on wooden posts like these rather than trees. Out of the many times I’ve seen her I’ve only seen her sat on a tree once!

dscn2508

This morning I had a quick visit to Hengistbury Head at Christchurch Harbour this morning. It’s a good spot for birds and I saw a lot this morning- virtually of them redshank. I scanned the busy marshy pools for other birds but as far as I could tell, they were all redshank today.

dscn2524

On the gorse there were a few stonechats flitting around and I was lucky enough to get a really clear photo of this one. Perhaps it was particularly brave or not very energetic due to the cold but it allowed me to get really close.

dscn2520

It may be chilly but there are already signs of Spring. Shoots are appearing through the soil, some local trees have blossom and the gorse is in flower. We’re in the grip of winter but spring is on the horizon…

dscn2477

Antlers in the Heather

I was optimistically hoping to show you some lovely photos of wildlife in the snow this week. Whilst much of the UK did indeed receive some snow, we barely had a flake down here on the South coast. The weather has been cold though and that has meant lots of birds visiting the garden.

As ever, the starlings are the most common visitors and are rowdily pushing each other out of the way to get to the food. Their feathers are looking particularly beautiful at the moment.

dscn2412

Other regular visitors include house sparrows and collared doves. Whilst the sparrows have plenty of room to feed the much larger doves struggle sometimes.

dscn2417

dscn2442

This year I’m taking part in the BTO’s garden birdwatch survey which involves keeping weekly records of the birds which visit the garden. As well as giving data to the BTO it will also enable to be to generate my own which should be interesting over time. For more information check out the survey website.

On the fishing lake there were a pair of goosander yesterday and I was able to see them both clearly for once- you can really see the difference between the genders here (the first is male, the second female).

dscn2436

dscn2437

The grey wagtail was on the Avon again yesterday too, looking vividly yellow. This is a female as it has lots of white between the yellow.

dscn2430

Whilst near the Avon I saw a kestrel hovering above the floodplain, trying to find prey. They are such incredible fliers that they are really tricky to photograph! At least you can tell what bird this is.

dscn2424

I headed up into the New Forest today and I’d barely stepped out of the car when I finally spotted a bird I’ve been looking out for all winter- a redwing. Redwings are winter visitors and members of the thrush family. There was a whole flock in this field which is exactly what I’ve been hoping to see for months now.

dscn2447

Whilst up in the forest I turned a corner and was suddenly greeted with this great sight.

dscn2448

These are a group of ten fallow deer stags. They are in their darker winter coats which did make me wonder about the ID. When they eventually stood up I could see them more clearly, especially their tails which give them away.

dscn2472

dscn2474

You can see this group is very mixed in term of age. One of the stags had only the slightest hint of antlers, a few had smaller ones and several had large sets. You can see where the deer have been rutting with the odd broken antler and one deer having a very severe limp on it’s back leg.

It’s always nice to get close to the New Forest deer and I was especially lucky today to get so close to such a large number of them.