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.

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.

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

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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).

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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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.

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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.

December Delights

It’s been a cold week here with the temperature dropping well into minus figures overnight and frost that has lasted for several days when the sun hasn’t reached it. Our weather station says it reached as low as -5° C.

Inevitably this appears to have had an effect on the wildlife. It was really noticeable on my regular walk yesterday just how quiet things were and how little wildlife there was to be seen compared to normal. I did get lucky though and made a surprising spot- two goosander on the fishing lake. I’ve never seen any there before so it was completely unexpected.

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Today I visited Lymington-Keyhaven Nature Reserve which is full of bird life at any time of year but even more so the moment. As soon as I saw the marsh I could see there was a flock of brent geese there.

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There’s a lot going on this photo with a few widgeon in the foreground. If you look to the right of the picture on the water you can see the clearest view of a brent goose. These geese are small, about the same size as a mallard, and are winter visitors to our shores. The ones pictured are of the dark-bellied subspecies and breed in Northern Russia.

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There were plenty of other waterfowl on the marsh including a few teal. I was surprised at how dark this one’s stripe is- I can’t even see any green in there.

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There’s a clearer view of the many widgeon in the back of this photo which also shows the only avocets I could see on the marsh.

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There were loads of different waders on the marsh too. Probably the most common were bar-tailed godwits.

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There were also plenty of redshank around but they seemed more timid and therefore harder to photograph. You can still make out the bright red legs here though.

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I also managed to find a few dunlin. Like many waders, these birds lose their brown summer plumage and become greyer in winter.

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This is one of my favourite waders, a gorgeous little bird and a fairly uncommon one too, the ringed plover. In may have migrated here but it might actually be a resident- you can see ringed plovers on the south coast all year around if you know where to look.

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It was a kingfisher that outdid all the others though. I was admired a stunning shoveler on the marsh when a kingfisher came and sat on the barbed wire fence close to the path. It kept sitting and fishing from various points along the fence and seemed to follow us through a fair chunk of the reserve. They are always fantastic birds to see and this one put on quite a show for us.

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A Warm September

Last week I left out one of my spots of a juvenile bird. Juvenile birds are often challenging to identify and I struggled to match this one with any particular species. Eventually I discovered the bird was a young little grebe, a first for me.

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At the weekend I spent a beautiful few hours up in the New Forest.

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The heather has mostly lost it’s bright colour now but the weather doesn’t feel too autumnal. Indeed, this week has seen the highest September temperature in the UK since 1911. I very quickly spotted a maturing stonechat enjoying the warm weather.

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I disturbed a roe deer amongst the undergrowth which quickly bolted away.

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Despite appearances autumn is on the way and there were quite a few fungi around. This Common Earthball is looking in prime condition at the moment.

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This is a Blusher (Amanita rubescens) fungus, so called because it gradually turns pink although this one has yet to do it.

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I also managed to spot a dock bug sat on a leaf. The species has various nymph stages and this one is apparently a final instar nymph.

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The local rabbits are very busy at the moment, all the fields seem to be full of them. I guess they are still pretty much at peak numbers until the colder weather arrives.

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Only a few hundred metres on from this rabbit I spotted the young buzzard which I have seen occasionally over the summer. It’s still obviously a juvenile but is now looking more like an adult.

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There are still lots of swallows in the area. It’s difficult to show clearly in a photo but there are huge flocks swooping over the river at the moment. You can see lots of black dots in the picture below and they are all swallows.

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Every now and then one or two settle on the power lines and you can get a closer look at them.

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Lots of birds are visiting the garden at the moment. The starlings appear every now and then in large numbers. In terms of numbers they are probably our most common birds but actually they aren’t present very often.

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Usually when it’s a little quieter and the surge of starlings goes away a group of goldfinches arrive to eat the nyger seeds we put out for them. They are my favourite birds we get in the garden- they have such fantastic plumage.

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There are plenty of rarer visit- not rare birds but ones that don’t visit very often. This week I spotted a blue tit sampling the peanuts.

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Local Nature News

Today I thought I would share various nature news from my local patch and places quite nearby.

Let’s start with something very local. Only a few miles from home is Moors Valley Country Park, a wonderful place that I’ve planning to write a post about for some time but haven’t got round to it. The park recently did a Bioblitz survey to see which species are in the park and one particularly exciting discovery was made. The Dingy Mocha moth appears on both the UK biodiversity action plan and the international Red List of endangered species.

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The moth is only found in Dorset and West Hampshire so it really is a local species. I think it just how to go on my list of species to see! [Source]

An interesting story about the New Forest emerged this week. Various campaigners have come out to say that the New Forest is being destroyed by the growing number of New Forest ponies. Ecologist Sam Manning said:

“We know that an estimated 170 species have been lost over recent decades and that can be partially attributed to overgrazing. Now 68% of the New Forest is in unfavourable or unfavourable recovering condition which, considering it’s supposed to be one of the most well-managed biodiverse areas in the country, is frankly unacceptable.”

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In 1950 there were around 2,000 New Forest ponies whereas now there are about 5,000. This is largely due to financial reasons. It’s important though to point out that overgrazing is only partially being held responsible for lack of diversity and there are of course a swarm of other reasons. I think it’s difficult to really know the extent at which the ponies are making a difference. There are certainly a lot of grazing animals on the forest these days and a reduction certainly wouldn’t do any harm but I doubt it would save the forest as the article sort of suggests. [Source]

In Bournemouth it appears the seagulls are becoming an issue again. The council has had lots of complaints from the public about gulls stealing food from their hands and even swooping at people without food. You can’t really blame the seagulls, they have simply found an easy way to get food but it’s not pleasant for people. A few years ago a seagull hung around my grandfather’s flat and dive-bombed him every time he came out, presumably either mistaking his silvery hair for fish or protecting a nearby nest.

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The council are limited about what they can do as herring and lesser black-backed gulls are protected species. The best thing is to be preventative, to try and stop people feeding gulls and ensure waste is stored in closed bins, something which is being prioritised in the area. [Source]

And finally, here’s something slightly further away but is so incredible I just had to share it. Colin Garrett took this incredible video for Underwater Explorers of hundreds of starfish on the seabed at Chesil Beach.

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Pond of Life

I was out in the New Forest again yesterday and as usual there was plenty to see. My first spot of the day was a young buzzard sat on a branch.

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Once again there were loads of stonechats darting around the gorse bushes. I think this is one of my favorite photos of the year so far.

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Eventually I arrived at a viewpoint at Abbotswell where there is a small pond. Small though it may be, I was amazed at just how much wildlife was around the pond. There were dragonflies and swallows swooping over the water, the swallows often dipping into it for a drink.

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goldfinch emerged from the clump of trees you can see to have a quick drink:

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As did another favorite bird of mine which is making it’s debut on this blog, a pied wagtail:

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At the far side of the pond I saw a young green woodpecker picking insects out of the grass, as well as a group of starlings.DSCN0476

Nearer the shore were a pair of common blue damselflies:

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I’m not quite sure what they were doing here. Usually these damselflies mate by forming a heart shape with their bodies. The male appears to be in position but the female is not. I wonder if she was refusing to mate or just struggling to- they were flying and sat like this for some time.

Time for today’s deer photo which is a roe deer stag near the River Avon.

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I was in Wimborne looking at the River Allen during the week and noticed lots of fish swimming around. They were floating facing upstream, presumably picking up food that was heading their direction. I tried to take some photos which proved rather difficult.

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It’s so difficult to tell from a distance and through the water, even though the river is quite clear. Having looked at the fish species which are in the river I think this may be a brown trout but I’m not confident of that.

More locally I found a fungus growing at the bottom of the tree which I later identified as a Spindle Toughshank (Collybia fusipes/ Gymnopus fusipes).

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This fungus attacks tree roots so it’s presence is not good for the beech tree it has appeared on.

We found something intriguing in the garden today. We had some bags of mulch which have been waiting to be used and found these mysterious jelly-like eggs.

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It’s very difficult to identify these but in all likelihood they are mollusc eggs, probably slugs. There’s only one way to find out though so I’ve set up a jar for them to develop in and I’ll be able to see what emerges. They appear to be entirely clear though so I wonder if they weren’t fertilised but only time will tell.

Finally, I can report that the swallows in the webcam nest I was following have now fledged, much as I imagined. I’m not sure exactly when they left but I think it was probably Thursday morning.

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New Forest Wonders

On Sunday we went on a family walk at Cerne Abbas in Dorset. Unfortunately the weather wasn’t great so it wasn’t the best day for wildlife.

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That’s not to say there was no wildlife around though. From the car park I could hear loud screeching which could have only come from a buzzard. Sure enough, I quickly spotted the culprit which was clearly one of this year’s chicks.

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Not far from the famous Cerne Abbas Giant we spotted lots of yellowhammers giving alarm calls. Ironically my bird book says yellowhammers are “typical on warm, sunny days”.

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As the title suggests though most of today’s content comes from the New Forest. It’s always delightful to head out of the town and into the forest but this is probably the best time of year to go.  The boggy areas are drier than usual, there’s still hardly anyone around during the week and the heather is looking fantastic.

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My first spot was a fungus, a Common Earthball (Scleroderma citrinum).

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Near one of the streams, as well as a herd of cows, were loads of dragonflies. I thought I saw two different species but it turns out they were male (blue) and female (yellow) Keeled Skimmers.

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It has become traditional for every post to have a photo of a deer in it and today is no different! This one is perhaps the best yet though, a fallow deer stag.

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I also spotted a young roe deer stag, although this one was a little further away:

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There were lots of birds flitting around the gorse and I couldn’t quite work out what they were initially.

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I think that was a juvenile, or at least a female. When I eventually spotted a male it became clear they were stonechats. It’s amazing how these birds can stand on the sharp gorse.

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I also spotted a more unusual butterfly on the heathland, a brown argus :

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As I came back into the town I finally managed to capture one of the many white butterflies in the area. These butterflies don’t seem to settle very often and I have been trying to photograph one for ages.

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I really struggled to identify this as any one species but I eventually concluded it’s probably a Green Veined White. It certainly looks about the right colour and they are apparently highly-variable.

All in all, it was a fantastic day in the forest.

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Dragonflies and Dartford Warblers

I think I will start today with one of my more exciting spots. Here’s a very poor photo of the bird in question:

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It’s hardly my finest photography work I will admit. But that bird is a Dartford Warbler. It’s one of those species twitchers get excited about and I was pleased to see a fair few of these today. Some were very close to the path and I got a really clear view of them. They are distinctive birds so I knew exactly what they were immediately. I saw these in area of the New Forest very close to Ringwood- Google Maps calls it “Kingston Common National Nature Reserve”.

I had an excellent day up in the forest and saw a few other interestings too, in between getting soaked by a monsoon-esque rain storm. Here is a really cool funnel web made by a Labyrinth Spider:

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The spider was home and retreated deeper into the funnel as I peered down to take a look. Somewhere at the bottom of that tunnel are probably some eggs.

I also found a pond with some stunning dragonflies darting over it. This one is a male Broad-Bodied Chaser.

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And another blurry photo for which I can give a positive ID is this Emperor Dragonfly:

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I thought it was about time for an update on the goose nursery I’ve been following. Here’s the nursery yesterday:

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As you can see, it’s empty other than the odd rabbit. But in a field a little further along the path (and frustratingly obstructed by plants) was this view:

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So it seems there are still some goslings around. I’m intrigued why the nursery has moved- I’ve been watching all week and that is definitely the case. My assumption is that whatever food source drew the geese to the original site has dried up. There are now considerably fewer young geese out on the fields. I was interested to see the younger geese out on the fishing lake and swimming in a mixed species line-both canada geese and greylag geese.

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Meanwhile it has reached that time of year when our garden becomes overrun with starlings.

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We easily get 20+ starlings every time the food is refilled. I guess this is because most of the nesting is done and now we the juveniles are starting to get their adult colours and are pretty much independent. Before the harsher weather comes and reduces the population we have a few months of starling chaos!

A few random things to end today. Here’s a hoverfly I spotted, Eristalis pertinax:

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And I have had another fungus from my Blashford Lakes trip identified. This is a Ganoderma species. You can see some white parts on the fungus which look like they may be a different species but are actually parts which have grown this year.

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Enjoy the rest of your weekend and see you soon!

 

Recent Sightings

It’s June and there is an abundance of wildlife everywhere you look, so today I am sharing all the best things I’ve seen around the area lately.

Whilst thing have gone a little quieter lately, the most obvious species on our housing estate a few weeks ago was the starling. If you walked down the street you could hear the sound of starling chicks squawking for food from virtually every house, including our own. They seem to like to nest under the roof tiles in the cavity. Now many young starlings have fledged and can be seen trying to eat food off the feeder, although many still don’t seem to have got the hang of it.

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There are lots of Canada Geese around the nearby fishing lake and for many years they seem to have set up a sort of goose nursery in a local field. At this time of year you can guarantee to see lots of gosling on the field.

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Canada geese are quite interesting in that the way the raise their chicks is different to other birds. Their hatchlings are precocial, which means they are well-developed and can feed themselves almost straight away. They just need their parents to keep them safe and show them where the food is. They lay around six eggs in a clutch but actually many geese don’t do much parenting- they led their young goslings to a nursery area and let other geese look after them. On the local field there are around 25 goslings but only four adult geese.

Other birds are beginning to fledge now, although frankly I haven’t seen many young birds yet. The weather this week is looking to be a little better so I expect that many will fledge now. I spotted some blue tits nesting in this crevice in an oak tree and from what I could glimpse they looked like well established chicks that will fledge soon.

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One final bird for today is this beautiful Little Egret with some black-headed gulls. I’ve passed this spot on the river Avon a few times recently and the egret has always been there. I have only seen the one so it’s unclear if there’s breeding going on. The egret is not keen on the gulls and chases them off if they come too close.

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I’ve been out and about in the New Forest a lot this week and seen plenty of interest. There are deer everywhere in the New Forest at the moment- it’s almost harder to avoid seeing them than it is to see them! I finally managed to get an OK photo of a roe deer doe too:

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You can see a lapwing in the centre of photo below, taken at Ibsley Common. You might think of lapwings usually living on farmland but clearly this emerging heathland is just as good. I was also lucky enough to see peregrine falcons passing food in the air whilst I was up on the common too. I suspect they may well have a nest in a small wood up there.

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Another New Forest spot was this beautiful slow worm which was basking on a path. Despite their name and appearance slow worms are neither a worm nor a snake but actually legless lizards.

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I shall finish today’s post with some of the lovely views I’ve seen recently:

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New Forest Pine Martens

Today I am hugely excited to share what I think is probably the most exciting local wildlife news for many a year. Wild pine martens have been discovered in the New Forest!

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Until recently it was thought that pine martens were extinct in England but there have been recent reports of animals seen in Cornwall and Shropshire. They’ve now been seen no more than 10 kilometres from the middle of Southampton.

The discovery began with over 20 New Forest pine marten sightings being reported to the Hampshire Mammal Group since 2010. There was no photo evidence or other evidence like scats or roadkill but this changed when the Wild New Forest initiative managed to catch pine martens on their camera traps.

It is thought the pine marten population is very low and as pine martens are slow breeders this is unlikely to change any time soon. The Wild New Forest team are now expanding their surveys to see how many pine martens are living in the New Forest and whether there could be a sustainable population.

[Sources: New Forest NPA and Wild New Forest]