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June 2024 Newsletter

May & June 2024 Newsletter


When I started writing this piece in late April after another overnight deluge, the Forest was wet underfoot with ribbons of water carving channels along a long-established sandy path. Despite the weather the rhythms of the Forest continue, sitting writing this in a quiet spell during some woodland bird fieldwork I can hear a Wood Warbler singing his heart out; at first a joy but after 5 hours of constant song becoming a bit repetitive.


The constant song is a reminder that this individual is unmated. Wood Warbler numbers have crashed in the New Forest in recent years; as recently as 2009 while doing similar fieldwork we recorded 120 singing males, we now have less than ten. As I sit here, I have also been watching a Firecrest returning to a nest in what would have once been considered unsuitable habitat, but the population has boomed so much in recent years that every piece of potential nesting habitat appears occupied.


Side by side we have Wood Warbler and Firecrest, one declining and one increasing showing how these rhythms of the Forest that feel so solid and reliable are changing and there are many factors driving this change. We are quick to point the finger but often it isn’t as black and white as we make it out to be, though one constant is the changing climate (exemplified by the long-wet winter and spring we have endured). It seems to be a late spring, not only due to the wet weather creating challenges for our ground nesting birds but also the prolonged periods of northerly air flow creating quite a chill which appears to be delaying the breeding season for some species.

Image: Wood Warbler, New Forest, April 2024 © Wild New Forest Guided Tours


Sitting here listening to the Wood Warbler and watching the Firecrest has led me to ponder on changes that have occurred in just the past 25 years in the Forest. Birds are often in our face and act as a good barometer of change. It is amazing to think just 25 years ago we took species such as Yellowhammer and Wood Warbler for granted in the New Forest while both Turtle Dove and Nightingale were regular breeding birds. Great Grey Shrike was a regular wintering bird – this year is the first blank winter for the species in recent memory. At the same time, 25 years ago it was a red letter day to see Goshawk (a description was required when submitting a record) or an Avocet and Spoonbill at the coast, species that are almost expected these days. The changes aren’t of course restricted to birds but as mentioned above birds are simply more obvious, In the past couple of decades we have lost Wall Brown butterfly from the coast and Small Tortoiseshell are becoming increasingly hard to find. By contrast some moth species that once had near mythical status such as Clifdon Nonpariel (Blue Underwing) and Jersey Tiger are regularly encountered, not to mention the swarms of Box Moth. Some of the most notable changes have occurred with our mammals, not least the welcome arrival of Pine Marten and the not so welcome arrival of Reeve’s Muntjac along with the ongoing boom in numbers of Fallow Deer and Red Fox.


Change facilitates change, the increase of species such as Fox or Goshawk has a far reaching impact on other species benefiting some and not others, this ripple effect breeds change. So, as we move through another spring (I am sure we say every year that it is an unusual spring) and we feel the familiar rhythm of the Forest, let’s not take for granted some of the familiar species we see day to day.


Young Persons Wildlife Camp


Applications are now open for our next Wild New Forest Young Person’s Wildlife Camp over the weekend of 25-27 Oct 2024, based at Cameron’s Cottage, RSPB Franchises Lodge and kindly sponsored by the Cameron Bespolka Trust. With an all-inclusive participation fee of just £25 per person, this weekend is especially for young wildlife enthusiasts aged between 12 and 18. We will be running a range of activities including bird ringing, moth trapping, mammal camera trapping, bioblitz, fieldcraft and advice on career progression. Places are limited, the application form (deadline 15 October) can be downloaded at https://www.wildnewforest.co.uk/get-involved   


May walk highlights


A month of mixed spells of weather, overall we managed to run 13 scheduled walks, six boat trips, seven bespoke walks and two Wildlife Explorers Walks.


Among the highlights were an eventful Three Hour Birding Walk which produced great views of a mix of heathland species, views of Hawfinch, a cracking encounter with a couple of Wood Warbler and to top it off, some great views of a White-tailed Eagle interacting with a Common Buzzard. In addition, we ran our first Family Walk in the Rhinefield area which was great fun looking at a diverse mix of species exploring the habitats of the area.


The Wildlife Explorers Walks as ever were great fun with a good turnout, we had an especially enjoyable bird song walk out of Hockey’s Farm early in the month followed by a Beaulieu River Boat Trip where we also ran a bio-blitz around Bucklers Hard with the winning team recording nearly 150 species.


Raptors were a feature of the month with White-tailed Eagle, Goshawk, Honey Buzzard, Hobby and Marsh Harrier recorded on multiple trips throughout.   


  


                                                 

Images: Emperor Moth, Bee Orchid & Honey Buzzard © Wild New Forest Guided Tours


May fieldwork


May is peak season for fieldwork and this year has been a challenge. We have four main areas that we are focussing on so a brief update as to where we are:


New Forest Pine Marten project


As mentioned in previous newsletters, this year we are focussing on collecting DNA but it has been a slow start. We are focussing on four widespread areas; we have picked up plenty of records from each area but the Pine Marten haven’t been cooperating. New Forest Pine Marten don’t react to bait, so we need to find routes regularly used by Pine Marten and rely on their natural inquisitiveness to explore the tubes placed to collect hair samples.


Network Rail Pine Marten project


The project is well underway, monitoring potential mammal crossing points along the south-west mainline as it passes through the New Forest. Cameras are checked weekly and are generating a large amount of footage. To date we have records of Badger, Fox, Squirrel and Rabbits using crossing points; interestingly we have also been recording Roe, Fallow, Sika and Muntjac Deer, none of which have been picked up crossing the railway – yet!


Hawfinch fieldwork


It has been a tough year for Hawfinch with low productivity thought to be due to the poor weather in April and early May. In addition, the theft of some equipment in May had an impact on recorded activity. In general, the number of youngsters seen/heard across the New Forest is low this year and birds processed have been lighter than average. At this time of year an important part of the diet is moth caterpillars associated with Oak, the heavy rain experienced earlier in the spring would have washed away the caterpillars’ limited supply of available food.


New Forest Ringing Group


The annual CES (Constant Effort Survey) got underway at the end of April. At the time of writing we have completed four sessions, each yielding higher numbers than previous years. We are now preparing to start colour-ringing projects at the coast, focussing on Little, Common and Sandwich Tern and Black-headed Gull.


Image :Black-headed Gull & Mediterranean Gull Colony, Westen Solent © Wild New Forest Guided Tours


Other fieldwork included the regular BBS (Breeding Bird Survey) transects, WeBS (Wetland Bird Survey) counts and the annual count of nesting seabirds off the New Forest coastline (always one of my favourite bits of fieldwork).


Wildlife News


Amongst the local headlines this month is remarkable news that a pair of Roseate Terns have settled on an island on Normandy Lagoon and at the time of writing are apparently nesting. This extremely rare seabird is occasionally recorded along the New Forest coastline but is traditionally only known to breed at one UK location in Northumberland. A round-the-clock watch has been established to monitor the nest; many thanks to Wild New Forest regular Steve Laycock for coordinating the watch and reserve manager Pete Durnell for facilitating the watch.


Sadly, a roadkill Pine Marten was found and collected mid-month on the busy A337 between Lyndhurst and Cadnam. Many thanks to all that contacted us, especially to Derek Trippits who held the body in his freezer for collection. Although a very sad event, we can learn a lot from the deceased Pine Marten so a full autopsy will take place next month and DNA will be collected. Sadly the following day a second animal was found along the same stretch of road.


If anybody does find a roadkill Pine Marten please, if possible, contact either Marcus Ward at 07949 032702 or Martin Noble at 07796 658747.


Wild New Forest made it onto the national news this month, reporting about the Pine Marten project in the New Forest. The full piece can be found on YouTube Channel at https://youtu.be/f8cJXhLJmsQ?si=-w1_ARbfCoWdGPh6


Looking ahead


As we move into the summer months, thoughts turn to the fungi season ahead and we have a full schedule of fungi walks in the diary including a few new locations.


We are looking at adding a few new events including dusk walks looking for Nightjar and Woodcock in the north of the New Forest and an explorer walk with a rustic picnic sourced from local suppliers. We have added a number of Family Fun in the Forest walks for the summer holidays following the success of our walks during half-term.


If you are attending the New Forest show from July 30 to August 1, we would love to see you on the stand, we might even have some of Tiffany’s now famous chocolate brownies available. We will be in the Heart of the Forest area.


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


 

Wild New Forest Facebook highlights


As always, many thanks to everyone who contributes and helps keep it such a varied, interesting and educational site. Please continue to post your interesting sightings and images, and as always please also add the story behind the photograph. As we move into the breeding season please remember to keep to the pathways, keep a safe distance and respect signs placed by Forestry England. We are fortunate to have many scarce and protected species breeding in the New Forest, let’s all play our part to ensure they are left undisturbed.


This month’s most popular post was the lovely images of a young Roe fawn taken by Peter Norton.


Reviews


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


My partner and I went on a 3 hr Twilight Nightjar Walk as a birthday present and I cannot fault it. Marcus and Emily were so informative and helpful both pre and post walk. The information sent out was clear and easy to follow. I really appreciated the list that Emily sent out of birds that we saw after the walk. We were first time birders, and we had a great time. You really felt Marcus' passion and care for the birds and the New Forest as whole. It wasn’t a showy show and tell tour, rather a genuine, personal and memorable sharing of interest. We saw a number of birds and wildlife, which I know you cannot plan(!), but Marcus had an answer to every question. I'd definitely bring walking boots and a jacket for evening tours. I've already recommended to friends, and I'd go again in an instant. Thank you, Marcus and Emily! It really was wonderful you won't regret it.


 

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