A Gaggle of Goslings

I had a rare week off from blogging last week. I try to find different things to talk about each week and sometimes it just so happens that I’ve been unlucky and don’t have much wildlife to share with you. Fortunately though I’ve collected enough to be back today.

I’ve been enjoying keeping an eye on the small field that serves as the nursery area for the local canada geese. As each clutch of goslings hatch they are walked to the nursery field by their parents and all the goslings mix together.

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Last week I counted 45 goslings at one time which seems like even more than usual! By grouping together like a few adults can keep many goslings safe from predators.

I came across a brood of mallard ducklings today sheltering on the shore of the fishing lake.

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Given their size and location I think there’s a likelihood this is the same brood I spotted a few weeks ago when they are very young. There were fifteen ducklings then and were only four today- it’s entirely possible that the missing eleven ducklings were all predated. It shows how hard it is to raise young in the wild and why it’s worth having so many young if over a quarter of them are lost.

This week the first starling fledglings started to arrive in the garden. They are fun to watch as they stagger around, not quite in full control of their limbs yet, and beg their parents for food.

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I haven’t seen much of the Avon roe deer over the last month or so. I suspect that with the arrival of Spring they have more options for places to eat. I did spot several individuals yesterday though they can be difficult to see in the long grass.

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As you can imagine, when this buck had it’s head down and was eating you could barely see it at all. It’s around this time of year that roe deer start to give birth to their young so I shall be looking out for that, though I suspect the fawns will be almost invisible in this sort of foliage.

Apologies to arachnophobes but here’s a magnificent spider I found this week:

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This is a nursery web spider (Pisaura mirabilis). Like many spiders this species has interesting mating behaviour. Males approach potential females with a gift, a fly or other insect wrapped up ready to eat. When the female bites on the gift the male starts to mate with her. To make sure the job gets done he keeps one leg on the gift in case the female tries to escape with it or attack him. If this does happen the male will pretend to be dead (it’s called ‘thanatosis’) and will be dragged along by the leg touching the gift. When the female stops the male carries on mating.

Here’s another invertebrate I spotted recently:

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I’m not entirely confident on the ID of this one. It certainly looks like a grasshopper or cricket with that leg structure, possible a roesel’s bush cricket. It’s early in the year and this looks really small so I would hypothesise that it’s a nymph. Females are green so this is a male (assuming I’ve managed to identify the right species).

I was disturbed to see in the news recently that Theresa May and other members of the conservative party want to repeal the ban on fox hunting. When polled, 89% of the British public said they agreed with the ban. May has often stressed how she follows the public’s wishes, seeking out a Brexit deal, so it seems hypocritical for her to go against the public on this. Besides, with Brexit and the issues with healthcare and education funding fox hunting doesn’t feel like it ought to be something the government is even thinking about at present.

Owls That!

I spent a lot of time wandering the local countryside. I usually see some wildlife of interest on every walk. Sometimes I get really lucky and see something particularly exciting. Today was one of those days.

I was wandering along a country road when I caught a glimpse of this magnificent bird.

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This is of course a tawny owl. Tawnies are well known for being a bird which is regularly heard but rarely seen. Indeed I regularly here tawnies calling locally but I’ve never seen one until now.

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You would expect to see tawnies at night but I found this one at 2:30PM. This is probably it’s roost site- it’s actually sat on a 4×4 in someone’s garden! It certainly looked sleepy, a little wary of my presence nearby but showing no inclination for flying off. I think this was probably the best wildlife encounter I’ve had so far!

In other news, there’s now quite a few greylag goslings on the nursery field, somewhere in the region of fifteen.

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I was interested to see that two of the goslings were much lighter than all the others. In some domestic geese this can indicate gender but I’ve not been able to find anything online about why greylag goslings look so different- it may simply be natural variation.

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I’ve seen lots of interesting invertebrates recently. A lot of people, even those interested in nature, seem to ignore the smaller animals around them but they are fascinated to find out about.

On one footpath I saw several of these creatures that looked like caterpillars at first. With further investigation I discovered that they were actually glow worm larvae.

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Despite the name glow worms are actually beetles, hence the larvae stage. Larvae and even eggs can emit light but generally it’s the females who do so. They emit a greeny or orange light to attract males which have large, photosensitive eyes.

I recently saw this large fly which is apparently a yellow dung fly (Scathophaga stercoraria).

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As the name suggests, this fly is often found on the faeces of large mammals where they go to breed. They are actually really important to the animal kingdom due to helping dung to decompose and useful to humans to as they have been used for many experiments.

Another insect find was this dock bug (Coreus marginatus).

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Dock bugs have a more pleasant diet being herbivorous, particularly liking raspberries and gooseberries. Like other members of their family, they can release strong-smelling defensive chemicals if they are disturbed.

I’ve discussed some oak galls here before but never the most famous, oak apples.

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Like other galls, there are not fruit but growths caused by a wasp (probably Biorhiza pallida in this case) chemically inducing them. The larvae feed on the gall tissue and everyone’s a winner as it has no long-term effect on the oak tree.

Well that was an interesting dip into the miniature world around us! I’ll be back next week with much more, including an update on the peregrine falcon chicks.

Fluffy Fledglings

As expected, the peregrine falcon eggs in the Bournemouth nest started to hatch this week. The first came in the early hours of the 24th April and the second came later the same day. You can see the second chick hatching with the first chick behind the adult in this still.

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The third chick hatched two days later, on 26th April. At the time of writing it appears that the fourth egg has yet to hatch- last year the fourth egg of the clutch didn’t hatch at all and given the long gap it seems unlikely it will now. I’ve been keeping an eye on the nest and if you watch the webcam in the morning’s you can often see the adults arrive for a feed.

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The three chicks are huddled together here as the adult hands them pieces of a huge kill. Mostly they are being fed pigeons which is hardly surprising in an urban area but this feed looks really like a lump of meat! Remember, you can watch the nest webcam online here and I’ll be keeping up with the chicks’ progress over the next few weeks.

More baby birds have appeared on my patch this week including this fluffy thing:

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It’s hard to identify from that shot alone but this is in fact one of a clutch of canada geese goslings. I spotted this family on the edge of the fishing lake with four very young babies.

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These are the only young canada geese I’ve seen so far but soon there will be quite a few and they will be collected together into a sort of nursery. Over on the nursery field some greylag geese have already arrived with their very small goslings. 

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You can just make out four goslings in this image. The greylags seem less confident than the canada geese and always stick to the far side of the nursery field. Incidentally, here’s a very clear shot of a different greylag on the fishing lake.

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Greylags are thought to be the ancestor of all domestic geese, though generations of breeding mean their domestic counterparts now look quite different.

I’ve got one more baby bird for you today, a young blackbird.

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There are several ways to know if you’ve seen a young bird. Generally their feathers are fluffier than in adult birds, particularly on the underside. They often still have the yellow part at the side of the beak which the parents can’t help but pass food towards. You can also often tell from their behaviour- they are often less jumpy than adult birds and might allow you to approach quite closely. It means you can get clear photos like this one but I always make sure never to disturb the birds too much.

I’ve got good views of a few birds out looking for food this week- they too may have young they need to feed. Here’s a grey heron, perhaps the same one I saw catching a rat a few weeks ago.

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Only metres away I spotted the kestrel that is often hovering for food over these fields next to the river Avon and for once I managed to get a photo of it.

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I am always amazed at how these birds of prey can hover so well, keeping their head absolutely still whilst their wings flap so quickly.

Finally, here’s a bird I talked about a little over the winter but now in it’s magnificent summer plumage, a black-tailed godwit.

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Black-tailed godwits are mainly winter visitors but I think this may be an unusual resident bird. There’s a fairly sizeable population over at Lymington-Keyhaven so it’s possible some birds breed here rather than migrate, especially with the mild winter we had this year.

That’s all for today so I shall see you in May!

 

Baby Birds

I’ve been eagerly awaiting the first young birds of 2017 and this week I finally saw some. Get ready for the cuteness!

My first young birds of the year were two of these gorgeous lapwing chicks.

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There are currently a mother and two chicks right outside one of the hides at Blashford Lakes. This one chick came right up to the edge of the hide allowing for unprecedented views and photos! As well as agricultural land lapwings nest in areas of wetland with short vegetation. The team at Blashford have been working to create this sort of habitat and it certainly appears to be working.

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Lapwings are on the RSPB’s red list, meaning there has been a severe decline of numbers in the UK, so work like this is vital to support the species.

This morning I spotted this mallard parading with her ducklings.

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If I’ve counted correctly there are 15 ducklings there. Mallards usually have clutches of 8-12 eggs so this was a particularly large one. Of course ducklings are extremely vulnerable to predators so it’s unlikely that more than a handful of these will make it to adulthood.

In other bird news, blackcaps have now arrived in the country in time for the breeding season.

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These birds migrate from Southern Europe and Northern Africa to breed in the UK in the summer. However, increasing numbers are actually staying in the UK over the winter and the RSPB suspects this is due to the good source of food put out in gardens.

Today I saw a grey wagtail on the river Avon.

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This individual is a female as it has more white on it’s head then a male would. Whilst these birds don’t migrate a such they do move from lowland streams in the winter to fast flowing rivers in the summer.

Whilst at Blashford Lakes yesterday I saw thousands of these sizeable St Mark’s Flies (Bibio marci).

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Their name comes from the fact that they usually emerge around the 25th April which is St. Mark’s Day.  Their long legs dangle underneath them as they hover and look around for females. They will only be in flight for about a week but they are important pollinators as they feed on nectar.

Another insect sighting this week was this harlequin ladybird.

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Harlequins are an invasive species and frankly they appear to be have completed their invasion around here. It’s been a good few years since I last saw a native British ladybird around my patch but I see a lot of harlequins now. They eat other ladybirds and pass diseases to them. They have now colonised most of England and are quickly spreading into Wales and Scotland.

That’s all for today but I’ll see you next week when hopefully some peregrine eggs may have hatched!

Birds on the Heath

It’s been a mostly sunny week here once again meaning I’ve had ample opportunity for getting outside. It was announced this week that 2016 was a really poor year for butterflies but thankfully, from my perspective anyway, 2017 appears to be much better so far. I’ve seen plenty of our more common local species like peacocks, speckled woods and commas.

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This week several other species of butterfly have emerged in reasonable numbers such as holly blues and orange tips, as seen below.

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This may have been difficult to identify as an orange tip if I hadn’t seen it land! The underside of their wings is very different to the clear top and serves as camouflage when the butterfly sits on flowerheads like cow parsley. This individual is a male as females do not have the orange wing tips.

Another strong sign of spring is of course the swallows returning and this week I have suddenly seen a whole load on my patch. Situated near the South coast, it’s likely many of the swallows I am seeing are headed further North and have yet to complete their long migration from Africa.

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This week I visited Canford Heath in Poole which is the largest lowland heath in the UK and an SSSI thanks to the rare reptiles it is home to, like smooth snakes and sand lizards. Sadly it was a cool morning on my visit so I didn’t see any reptiles.

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I had much better luck with birds though. Canford Heath is also home to a population of dartford warblers and there were plenty around during my visit. Although the name comes from the location they were first identified the ‘dart’ part of it seems apt as these birds spend a lot of time darting around the heather. Try as I might I could not get a photo of one.

Still, I did stumble upon this linnet on the heath and just about managed to get a photo of it.

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This is probably a female as there doesn’t seem to me much red on it. The numbers of this finch have fallen a dreadful 57% since 1970 probably due to a decrease in seed and an increase of the use of herbicides on farmland.

Another spot was this wheatear, a bird which also migrates from Africa for the summer breeding season.

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Amusingly the name wheatear derives from “white” and “arse”, referring to the prominent white rump of the bird. They are mainly ground-dwelling birds and mostly eat insects.

One more bird from my Canford Heath visit was this jay, a more common bird but also a beautiful one to see.

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Down by the river Avon this week I came across this plant which was covered in insects.

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I put it up on iSpot, which is a great website where community users can often identify species you might now recognise instantly. The general census seems to be that this aren’t true flies (diptheria) due to the long antenna. They are probably alderflies (meglapteraas they are insects that live near rivers. I can’t come up with a convincing reason for them to be swarming like this though- maybe it’s just a good food source?

That’s all for today and I hope you have a good Easter.

Spring Sunshine

It’s been a glorious Spring week here. The temperatures are creeping over 20°C but there is still a pleasant breeze meaning it’s ideal for getting out and watching wildlife. I haven’t seen any clouds for days- here’s a blue tit to show off the blue sky.

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And another bird surrounded by blue sky is my local great spotted woodpecker.

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I’ve seen and heard woodpeckers a lot in this small patch of trees over the last few weeks. It’s the time of year of their drumming display. Both sexes drum at trees as a way of making first contact with potential mates. An unpaired male can drum as many as 600 times a day! Interestingly these woodpeckers have a gender equal society with both sexes drumming, excavating a nest, incubating eggs and looking after young after fledging.

This week has seen a dramatic increase in the numbers of butterflies around. I’ve so far seen brimstones, peacocks, large whites, orange tips, red admirals and speckled woods.

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It’s amazing what a difference a week can make- last weekend there were no speckled woods to be found whereas this weekend they seem to be everywhere. These butterflies have interesting mating behaviour. Male speckled woods either find a sunny spot and defend it from other males, waiting for a female to come along or patrol the forest actively looking for females. The females are monandrous, meaning they only mate once in their lifetime, and have to make the decision to mate with either a defender or a patroller.

Today I ventured up into the New Forest where I was treated with some magnificent views.

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I mainly hoped to see some reptiles and eventually I got lucky and found this slow worm.

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I thought at the time that this was a particularly long individual. In hindsight I should have placed an item near it for scale. These legless lizards are supposed to grow up to 50cm long but I am convinced this one was longer.

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It’s frustratingly impossible to know quite how long it was but it’s clear this was a particularly long individual. It was calm and basking in the sun to warm up and was happy for me to have a close look at it.

There were lots of birds hopping around on the gorse and under the heather and eventually I managed to get a good look at one and discover they were meadow pipits.

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Meadow pipits are the main host bird for cuckoos in the New Forest. Interestingly I heard a cuckoo calling today which seems remarkably early. I’ve been keeping an eye on the BTO tagged Cuckoos (see here) and Selborne, who was tagged in Hampshire, is only in the North of Spain whilst all the others are still South of the Sahara! That all suggests that the cuckoo I heard today is a really early arrival and likely hasn’t been in the forest for more than a few days.

I was saddened to learn this week of the extreme plight of New Forest curlews. Over the last 12 years the numbers of Forest curlews have fallen by two-thirds, from about 100 breeding pairs in 2004 to just 40 in 2016. At this rate they could become extinct in Southern England in as little as twenty years (Full story).

The main reason being attributed to this decline is nest disturbance. Curlews are ground-nesting birds and it’s likely that nests are being disturbed by runners, walkers and dogs who are not keeping to the main tracks. People seem to think they have a right to go anywhere on the Forest and this is the impact of it.

Anyway, let’s hope the good weather continues into this week and I’ll see you again soon for more.

Top Birds

The results to the RSPB’s Big Garden Birdwatch 2017 came out this week and as always, make for interesting reading.

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This isn’t too far off for our garden, though we have considerably more starlings than house sparrows. We regularly have as many as thirty starlings descend on the garden, squawking and fighting for access to the food. It’s easy to imagine that starlings are doing well when we see that many around but numbers have decreased 79% since the first birdwatch in 1979.

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It’s also bad news for greenfinches whose numbers have fallen 59% in the same year. This is much more noticeable here as they were one of our most common birds and now we never see them at all. They have fallen victim to Trichomonosis disease which is why cleaning bird feeders is so important.

Still, at least it’s better news for other species. Since 2007 goldfinch numbers have risen 44% and robins have gone up by 24% in the same time. Both are regular visitors to our garden and I’ve particularly noticed a large number of robins in the area at the moment.

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The bushes around my patch are teeming with birds at the moment and it’s delightful. A couple of my favorites have been this pied wagtail sat on dead wood in the middle of the River Avon and the long-tailed tit hopping around the brambles nearby.

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One day this week the great crested grebe came unusually close to the shore of the fishing lake giving me a clear view of the beautiful bird.

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I’ve spotted my third butterfly species of 2017 this week, the lovely comma.

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When they close their wings commas look a lot like dead leaves and with only early growth on bushes I found it tricky to watch the two I saw. There are actually two forms of commas. This form has a darker underside so as to survive the winter in the dead leaf disguise. The other form develops directly to sexual maturity and has a lighter underside as it has no need to survive the winter.

An invertebrate I’ve seen a lot this week is the Melanostoma scalare hoverfly. You can see it here at the top of a dandelion flower.

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This species is very common, found in most of the ‘palearctic zone’ (that’s essentially Europe, Northern Asia and Northern Africa) and even as far South as Zimbabwe and New Guinea. Despite how common this species is hardly anything is known about it! It visits a large variety of flowers which suggests it’s probably an important pollinator and is thought to be a predator of small insects in leaf litter. It’s amazing that something can be so common yet we know so little about it.

Nettles are really important for insects and have just started going into flower recently. This is a red-dead nettle, an important species for many moths and is a prominent source of pollen for bees at this time of year.

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I’ve also seen white-dead nettle, which is also very good for bees. Neither of this nettles sting, hence the ‘dead’ part of their names.

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That’s all for today, see you next week!

The Egg Thief

I will start today’s post with an update on the nests I have been following. Last week I introduced you to the collared dove that is nesting on the bracket of our satellite dish. It had laid two eggs.

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Yesterday there the mother was not sat on the nest which has been very unusual over the past week. I went and had a closer look at the nest from an upstairs window and discovered it was empty. Something had taken the eggs.

We have a magpie who is a regular visitor to our garden and it is likely it found the nest and ate the eggs. It’s easy to feel sad about this but it’s nature. The magpies will be laying eggs soon so this meal can help to give them the energy to build their nest and look after their young. Our collared doves will likely try again elsewhere and maybe they will have learnt their lesson about building a nest in such an obvious place. Only a few hundred yards down the road is this nest which is harder to reach.

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Having better luck are the Bournemouth peregrines who this week managed to lay another two eggs, bringing the batch up to four (the same as last year).

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The eggs should start hatching around the 20th April. At the moment the eggs are being incubated virtually 24/7- this experienced pair certainly know what they are doing.

With Spring well and truly underway, the early butterflies are now fluttering around. I’ve seen a fair few brimstones around and also some peacocks which look absolutely stunning in the Spring sunlight.

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I have also noticed plenty of early bees and hoverflies buzzing around too. You would have thought pollen was limited at this time of year but this Tapered Drone Fly (Eristalis pertinax)  is covered in it!

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Fortunately I saw this adult rather than the maggot form as they sound really unpleasant. Tapered drone flies have ‘rat-tailed maggots’, the long tail acting like a snorkel as the organism breathes underwater. These larvae prefer water badly polluted with organic matter such as drainage ditches and pools around manure piles and sewage.

Not far away I saw some roe deer in a field.

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There were six deer here, five does and one buck. I can’t work out where these deer come from. There is the herd I usually see by the Avon not too far away and the lower New Forest deer are even closer but from either direction the deer would have to walk through built-up areas.

These deer will lose this site soon. A large development is being built on this site, at least sixty homes and likely more if the next phase of planning permission is granted. This is green belt land where I’ve also seen a kestrel hunting and a flock of meadow pipits. Then there’s the other environmental effects, like how this will affect the water drainage and adding even more cars to the local roads. In their wisdom New Forest District Council have decided none of that matters.

Let’s end on a happier note shall we? Here’s one more nest I’ve seen this week, a mute swan.

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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.

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

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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:

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Blue Tit
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Robin
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Little Egret (with a particularly long plume)
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Great Crested Grebe

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

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.