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February 2024 Newsletter

As I write this I can hear Song Thrush and Great Tit singing, the sun is finally out and has a hint of warmth to it, and the days are ever so slowly getting a little longer. For the past couple of months plans have been slowly starting to take shape for the 2024 fieldwork season. The following is a short round-up of planned Wild New Forest and New Forest Ringing Group fieldwork for the year ahead.


Pine Marten: The fourth year of the Pine Marten survey sees us take a change of tack. Over the past three years we covered different areas looking for evidence of Pine Marten and where possible explored breeding productivity and assessing numbers. This year we are revisiting three areas previously surveyed (north, centre and south of the New Forest) with a view to collecting hair samples for DNA analysis.

The samples are collected by placing tubes in locations regularly used by Pine Marten (they can’t resist investigating a tube); Velcro tabs are placed in the tubes to collect any stray hairs as the Pine Marten passes through. DNA can then be extracted from the hairs. We can get a wealth of information from the DNA such as genetic diversity of the population, geographical origin, and (if sufficient samples are collected) we can use the data to calculate population size. In addition, we will be using our trail cameras in these three core areas a little more dynamically this year, moving them around in response to activity. This will enable us to look at territory size and hopefully add to our growing database of individuals identified via their unique bib.


Image: Pine Marten showing unique bib pattern, captured on trail camera 24/01/24 © Wild New Forest Guided Tours


Network Rail: We are in discussion with Network Rail about a potential survey looking at mammal crossing points and usage of the main south-west mainline as it passes through the New Forest. We are especially interested in the section that passes through the main woodland block to the east of Brockenhurst. We know that the railway can be used as a corridor and also gets crossed regularly, we are especially interested in Pine Marten and other mustelids, as a first step investigating how mammals negotiate the mail line, ultimately with a view to mitigating any potential issues with direct contact with the railway.


Hawfinch: Ongoing fieldwork such as roost monitoring and the RAS scheme (Ringing Adults for Survival) will continue through 2024. In addition (thanks to funding from the New Forest Biodiversity Forum) we will be GPS/radio tagging three post fledging juvenile Hawfinch as part of a trial looking into dispersal and first winter survival of juvenile Hawfinch. This is an area that has been highlighted as a knowledge gap for the species. We will also continue our work with RSPB looking at Trichomonas in Hawfinch which will involve testing individuals caught as part of the RAS scheme.


Bird ringing: As with previous years, our focus will be the CES (Constant Effort Survey) at Keyhaven looking at productivity, recruitment, fidelity and longevity for common breeding birds in the area. The survey involves ringing once every 10 days between April and September with nets set in the same location for the same period of time. Over a period of years, a valuable dataset can be built that feeds into the understanding of the status of common breeding species across the UK. In addition, the tern project will continue focussing on Little, Common and Sandwich Tern in the Western Solent and we welcome any records of colour ringed Terns anywhere within the Solent region (or beyond).



We will also engage in a number of surveys organised by other organisations and volunteers are actively sought. A few details below:


HOS (Hampshire Ornithological Society) are looking for volunteers for a Woodlark survey taking place in the New Forest this year. See website for available survey locations https://hoswoodlark.birdsurvey.org.uk/


BTO (British Trust for Ornithology) are often looking for volunteers to take part in their BBS and WeBS surveys, if these are of interest, please contact BTO directly via their website.


Freshwater Habitats Trust are running a spawn survey looking for observations of frog and toad spawn across the New Forest; - further details can be found via their website at https://freshwaterhabitats.org.uk/projects/catchment-projects/new-forest-catchment-project/new-forest-spawn-survey-2023/


These are just a few of the many organisations that are active in the New Forest and looking for volunteers, please do share with us if you are involved with a conservation organisation looking for volunteers in the New Forest.


New Forest Biodiversity Forum

A major event in the calendar this year is the inaugural New Forest Biodiversity Forum taking place at Carey’s Manor, Brockenhurst on 6 & 7 February. The forum has been established to support and promote biodiversity monitoring and survey in the New Forest. The forum is sponsored by the Kairos Philanthropy Fund and chaired by Wild New Forest director Professor Russell Wynn, with support from a steering group representing a diverse mix of expertise. One of the main aims of the forum is to identify key evidence gaps relating to biodiversity and conservation in the New Forest; further information and monthly newsletter is available via the forum website at www.newforestbiohub.org 


January walk highlights

A month of mixed weather ranging from named storms through to those perfect cold and bright days that make it a joy to be out. Overall, we ran 12 scheduled walks, two bespoke walks and four boat trips.


The highlight of the month was the discovery of a Grey Seal pup on the Beaulieu River, the first recorded successful breeding attempt in our region. The young pup was first seen on our boat trip on 4 Jan when it was observed suckling from its mother with an impressive bull Grey Seal nearby. We went on to observe the pup throughout the month. On one occasion we were fortunate enough to observe a White-tailed Eagle inspecting the pup, although there was no concern; it was simple curiosity and the pup is too large (and its teeth too sharp) to be of any interest to the Eagle. We suspect it may have been looking for any discarded after-birth, or maybe simply curious!


Image above: Grey Seal pup, Beaulieu River, Jan 2024 © Wild New Forest Guided Tours


We also ran our first two Young Explorers events of the year. Both were well attended, the first visiting the hide overlooking Normandy Lagoon and the second looking at a communal Hawfinch roost in the New Forest. In addition, our first Limited Mobility walk around Wilverley produced a nice, varied mix of wildlife.


Other highlights for us included our first monthly Fungi and Slime Mould Explorer Walk and our first Wildlife Wander of the year from the High Corner Inn. Each produced a nice mix of species and some great discussion about wildlife in the New Forest.



Images: Bearded Tit, White-tailed Eagle and Winter Polypore taken on trips through Jan 2024 © Wild New Forest Guided Tours


January fieldwork

January is a quiet time of year for fieldwork, with a lot of time spend doing preparing for the season ahead. Having said that we did get out and about throughout the month.


The highlight of the month for me was the discovery of a new Hawfinch roost in the north of the Forest, thanks to a tip-off. This new roost nicely fills in a blank area creating a network of roosts across the Sloden-Island Thorns area making this is the 51st communal roost to be mapped in the New Forest. We will continue to monitor through the year to get a feel for the dynamics of the roost. Other Hawfinch highlights included colour-ringing our first bird of the year with an adult male caught and ringed at a feeding congregation in the north of the New Forest. Individual’s colour-ringed away from our core study site provide valuable data on the movements of Hawfinch across the New Forest. This particular feeding congregation contains up to 130 Hawfinch so we will be visiting through the winter period. Many thanks in particular to Martin Bennett for keeping a regular eye on and documenting the activities of the feeding flock.


Image: adult male Hawfinch, colour-ringed as part of ongoing fieldwork Jan 2024 © Wild New Forest Guided Tours


We have also received details of a fascinating movement of a colour-ringed Hawfinch that was originally ringed as a breeding female in the Wye Valley, Glos in 2016. This individual was caught and subsequently observed throughout the season at our main study site in the New Forest with a full brood patch suggesting she was breeding locally. This is the first record we have of Hawfinch breeding in two distinctly different geographical locations.


In addition to the Hawfinch fieldwork, we have made a start with Pine Marten fieldwork, placing nine cameras in areas where we are interested in collecting hair samples from DNA analysis. We have started recording Pine Marten already with six records so far and one new bib pattern for the bib-liography!


Looking ahead

We have recently added two new Newtown Harbour boat trips and our popular Spring Solent Seabird Cruise will take as around the seabird breeding colonies of the western Solent and around the Needles to explore the mixed seabird colonies of the Isle of Wight. In addition, due to popular demand we have added a second Coastal Photographic Workshop scheduled for 10 March.


We have also added a new date of 9 March for the dawn Hawfinch roost walk. Dawn in the Forest is a beautiful time to be out and well worth the early start. You can’t beat watching and listening to the Forest wake up and March is a great time to be watching Hawfinch at the roost as courtship will be at its peak.


Our current schedule of events and access to our booking platform can be reached via our website at https://www.wildnewforest.co.uk/event-calendar


The Facebook page remains a vibrant and busy community. It has been a pleasure lately to hear from people, both on walks and while out and about, how much they enjoy the Facebook page. We are grateful to everyone who contributes to the page and appreciate the generally friendly and jovial nature of the page. We work hard behind the scenes to ensure the site remains family friendly but can’t watch the site around the clock so please do drop us a note if you would like to flag up any content. 


We encourage members to post their views and when uploading images please do provide some context and background to the image as we love hearing the stories behind the photo. The most popular post this month included the wonderful account of the Beaulieu River Boat trip where we not only encountered the Grey Seal Pup but Britian’s largest and smallest raptors: White-tailed Eagle and Merlin.


Reviews

Many thanks to everyone who takes the time to leave a review on TripAdvisor. Below is a recent review received in January. We are proud to be 5* rated on TripAdvisor and all our reviews can be found here http://tinyurl.com/mrymnuw7

 

Wonderful birding experience - Jan 2024

My husband and I went on a three hour birding walk with Emily-Louise and Marcus around Lymington marshes. We enjoyed it immensely and had the chance to take some terrific photographs, including my first spotted redshank. (A redshank agreeably appeared with a greenshank and a spotted redshank for comparison, which must have taken quite some organisation!)

 

Marcus is incredibly knowledgeable about the marshes, and conveys that knowledge in a very accessible and enthusiastic way. Huge thanks also to Emily Louise for organizing everything and emailing us a list of what we had seen afterwards (and for sharing her electric hand warmer during the walk - a total lifesaver!)

 

We look forward much to our next walk with them, and we recommend Wild New Forest without any qualification. If you're thinking of booking a tour, stop thinking and just do it!


Forthcoming illustrated talks


09 Feb 2024: Hyde War Memorial Parish hall (Wildlife in and around the Ogdens Valley)

21 Feb 2024: Southbourne W.I (Woodland Wildlife of the New Forest)

27 Feb 2024: Cafe Scientifique, Highcliffe (Wildlife year in the New Forest)

1 Mar 2024: New Forest Ramblers group (Wildlife year in the New Forest)

11 Mar 2024: Christchurch Baptist U3A (Wildlife year in the New Forest)



Some walks are subject to change.

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