TRAVELLING NATURALIST TRIP REPORT
9 - 12 2001
Strong westerlies with frequent heavy showers. Occasional warm sunny periods.
The weather forecasts for this week indicated less than ideal conditions: gale force westerly winds with heavy rain, with flooding likely in parts of the south and west. For once the Met. Office proved to be accurate in all but the floods. However, our group of intrepid naturalists seemed to lead a charmed existence as time after time the first spots of rain appeared just as we got into the bus and fizzled out just as we reached our destination. Someone was definitely looking after us this week!
Monday July 9th
The first evening was probably our least productive session as we spent a hour at Yew Tree Bottom in miserable drizzle not seeing any Nightjars. As always we did find something though; in this case a beautiful little Summer Chafer that allowed itself to be caught (and filmed!) for close examination.
Tuesday July 10th
The first full day in the forest started with a trip to Acre's Down in the hope of finding Honey Buzzard. This was a rather optimistic quest considering the appalling weather conditions and in fact we saw very few birds at all, and not a single bird of prey. We did see plenty of other wildlife though including a very charming group of Fallow Deer feeding in a clearing not far from us. Smaller animals included the attractive Wolf Spider (Pisaura mirabilis) and what must have been the largest Harvestman I have ever seen. Sheltering from the rain in a Holly clump gave us time to explore the botanical attractions of the area including a brilliant orange patch of the strange jelly-like Tremella fungus. Numerous species of flowering plants were listed here including the parasitic Dodder and the very tasty Water Pepper!
Walking on into Wick Wood we found birds rather more easy to see. An unusually bold Jay at the top of a dead Beech tree was joined by a rather vocal Spotted Flycatcher. Bullfinches were also being very noisy in the area but did not allow themselves to be seen.
After lunch back at the hotel we moved down to the coast and the ever-reliable wetlands of Pennington. Shorebirds here included 8 species of wader and 3 terns, as well as a record number of Little Egrets (at least 10). Probably the least expected bird was an eclipse male Pintail, being about 2 months early! The sight here of an adult Little Tern feeding its recently-fledged chick was one of many that will stay with me as a highlight of the week.
The evening trip was to Burley to watch Badgers in the comfort of a glass-fronted hide. The family has recently diminished to only a pair of Badgers but they are now accompanied by 1 or 2 Foxes. As usual we were treated to amazingly close views of these fascinating animals.
On the way back to the hotel we stopped off at Yew Tree Bottom again and, once again, failed to see any Nightjars. There were an unprecedented number of Glow-worms out though, which helped to make up for the ornithological disappointments.
Wednesday July 11th
By 0930 we were walking across a sunlit heath towards Denny Wood. In spite of the strong wind several Dartford Warblers were seen trying to keep upright on the swaying tops of Gorse. As we neared the forest we found the first of many Redstarts seen that day, several of which were outstandingly bright males. Nuthatch, Tree Creeper and Green Woodpecker were also seen around the trees and Wood Lark was added to the list as we walked out onto the heath again. Other notable sights included a Hornet's nest unusually at the base of an Oak instead of high in the crown. The Wood Ants here were not unexpected but this was the first time we have seen winged males.
After lunch we explored a new area in the south-east corner of the forest towards Beaulieu River. On the way a flock of Red-legged Partridges were seen from the bus, as were a number of Pheasants.
First stop was Sowley Pond where we found a Great-crested Grebe on its floating nest. A number of new plants were also seen here including Marsh Woundwort and Creeping Jenny.
Needs Ore Point produced one of the best sightings of the week in the shape of a group of 4 Green Sandpipers. Whilst watching these difficult-to-find birds a movement attracted our attention to the grass near our feet - it was a young Hare, the first ever seen on these trips. Further on a Common Sandpiper was found on the tidal mud-flats and, most surprising of all, a large female Peregrine resting on the shingle beach of the point itself.
The final after-dinner Nightjar foray took us to Hatchet's Pond but sadly it was not third time lucky. The weather was just too cold and windy to tempt them out this year. The wet weather favoured the plants though and the Wild Chamomile by the car park here was unusually obvious.
Thursday July 12th
On the final day we made a return visit to the coastal marshes, this time to the Keyhaven end. One of the first birds found turned out to be a young Water Rail, on closer inspection one of 4 skulking along the edges of the reedbed. The wader flock contained one species not seen on Tuesday; a male Ruff still bearing traces of its elaborate breeding plumage. Plants included Haresfoot Clover and masses of bright purple Sea Lavender.
After a picnic lunch taken in the bus during a torrential downpour the 3 of us that were left decided to explore the paths opposite the hotel towards Poundhill Heath. The first of many memorable events occurred only yards from the road when a female Sparrowhawk dived into the trees in front of us to harass a Carrion Crow which was quietly walking around under the trees. The large raptor then delighted us by landing on a nearby branch and giving us the rare opportunity of a close view of this shy species. Out on the heath the next surprise was a Little Owl perched on some runner bean poles in an area of allotments. The forest around Queen's Bower produced a number of woodland species including our first Marsh Tits. Some isolated stems of Rose of Sharon on a riverbank were an unexpected sight. On a week when insects were notable by their absence it was a joy to see a group of Beautiful Demoiselles basking in the warm sunshine. The furthest point of the walk brought us to a field with a herd of Fallow Deer, shortly followed by a close view of a female Red Deer with her fawn. One of the last birds seen before the rain came in again was a fine soaring Buzzard, the only one seen well during an unseasonably windy week.
A final total of 86 bird species seen, with several others heard, was testimony to the sharp eyes of all members of the group. Well done everyone!
Bob Ford, 16/7/01