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!

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.

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.

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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).

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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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:

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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.

 

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Local Lovelies

I will begin with some admin from my last post. In said post I shared a distant photo from my visit to Blashford Lakes of what I thought was a dunlin.

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Tom Moodie suggested that it’s actually a green sandpiper. I’m happy to bow to his superior knowledge. I find wader identification particularly challenging. Green sandpipers are winter migrants that can be seen on freshwater margins in the South of the UK- this individual certainly ticks all those boxes!

A few weeks ago I shared my excitement at spotting a pair of goosander on the local fishing lake. I walked past the lake again today and was amazed to see that there was a whole flock of goosander.

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I counted over 30 individuals which was great! There was also a large number of little egrets on the shore of the lake too, around 20 in total.

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Look at that- egrets, goosander and I think a cormorant on the left all within a few hundred yards of my house! Speaking of cormorants I have noticed that the cormorant roost too has grown in numbers- I spotted about fifteen individuals this afternoon. Whilst you can’t see the lake from our house you can stand at the end of our drive and see the cormorant roost.

The housing estate is always home to a lot of starlings and they gather in large numbers in the afternoons at the moment. Some trees end up covered in them.

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Also appearing in large clumps in the local trees at the moment is mistletoe.

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Mistletoe is of course a parasitic plant, relying on its host tree for life. It attaches to the tree and penetrates its branches, absorbing water and nutrients from them. Large plants can kill parts of the branch and a heavy infestation can even kill the whole tree. Mistletoe is actually really important ecologically though as it provides food for lots of different species of birds.

I’ve seen the Avon roe deer a few times lately and today I got a really close look at three deer in some farmland. Although they gave me a good look these deer didn’t see too worried that I was only a couple of hundred metres away from them.

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I’m sad to say that where these deer were is yet another area of Ringwood threatened by development. Plans for the first phase of a 175 home development on this site were submitted this week. (Further details here).

I do recognise that nationally we need more houses. The trouble is that Ringwood has grown and grown and in my opinion has reached capacity. The doctors are full, the schools are full and the local roads are virtually a permanent traffic jam.

But even more importantly, this is a great site for wildlife. Roe deer this weekend. The kestrel I saw a lot about a month ago was here. Virtually all the butterfly photos I shared on this blog in the spring and summer were here. And I only pass through here once a week and must only see a fraction of what’s actually there.

All the wildlife in this post was seen within half a mile of my house. It’s incredible and I feel so privileged to live here. But with every green space on the edge of the town (no exaggeration) being planned or considered for development we could lose most of it in the next twenty to thirty years and it breaks my heart.