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March 2024 Newsletter

A change of season

Despite the recent awful weather, it has still been a joy to be out and about in the Forest. I am often out early and love watching the Forest wake up for another day. I must admit the draw of a warm case bed and steaming coffee as the rain streaks down the window is strong and I have succumbed a few times lately. However, despite how tempting it is to stay wrapped up I try to make the effort to get out in the half light and it is always worth it. I instantly feel guilty as I step out wondering if I have made the right decision to be greeted

by early songsters such as the Robin and Song Thrush that have no choice but carry on regardless.


The first couple of hours of the day are always the most rewarding; I always feel honoured to be there as the Forest slowly comes to life and transitions from night to day. Quite often as I arrive (normally at a Hawfinch roost) I am rewarded with views of those species just retreating to avoid the hustle and bustle of the day such as mooching Badger, prowling Fox and Deer returning from a night of grazing. I have had many magical moments while sat still awaiting dawn when a Badger has either ambled past me or even on one memorable occasion came and sniffed my feet while I stood frozen to the spot! At this time we get a cross over, with Tawny Owl just settling down as Goshawk start to stir and give their far carrying call, often while still in complete darkness. On more than a few occasions I have been buzzed by Mandarin travelling at speed back to daytime haunts giving their bizarre whistling call; they always take me by surprise!


Bats can be active into the half-light and although the areas I tend to visit are generally favoured by Soprano and Common Pipistrelle, I will occasionally see a Noctule or Serotine. The Pipistrelles are great to watch as they move back and forth picking off small invertebrates. I often try to watch them to see where they finally go to roost; they generally elude me but once I was lucky enough to watch one go into an Oak to settle for the day.

One particular roost that I aim to monitor monthly has a number of Wood Ant nests. At dawn they are normally quiet and subdued but viewing through a thermal imaging camera they glow with warmth and as the morning starts to warm they become a hive of activity. Over the years I’ve  started to feel invested and enjoy seeing how the nests grow over time.


As the finches start to wake up (normally around 30 minutes before sunrise) focus switches to surveying the roost, counting each species as it stirs for the day ahead. There is very much an order, with the Redpoll and Crossbill normally the first to wake, followed by Siskin, Chaffinch then Greenfinch and finally the Hawfinch which are the last gather. As the Hawfinch gather they can be quite vocal, they often spending 10-15 minutes preening and interacting with each other. A big part of this appears to be re-affirming the pecking order with the dominant birds getting prime positions within the flock, both at roost and when feeding and travelling with the flock. From the outside it can appear to be a disordered gaggle of vocal birds but there is quite a strict social system at play with the young thrusters always pushing and vying for a better place.


Then in no time the Forest is awake and going about its business as if the darkness of just an hour ago never happened and it is time for me to stroll on and start my own day.


Young Persons Wildlife Camp

Applications are now open for our next Wild New Forest Young Person’s Wildlife Camp over the weekend of 29-31st March 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 can be downloaded here (deadline 20 March).                     


What to look for in March  

March is a great month to be out and about in the New Forest as the forest floor comes to life and gains a bit of colour. We should see our first Stitchwort and in secluded clearings in ancient woodland Wild Daffodil will add a splash of yellow heralding the start of spring. In the wetter areas Crowsfoot and Marsh Marigold will start emerging. The colour isn’t just restricted to flora - Bog Beacon can be found breaking down the leaf litter in wet ditches and puddles across the Forest while in dryer areas the Slimemould, False Puffball (known as moon poo) can be found adorning tree trunks.


Out on the heath and across the mires Lapwing and Curlew will start returning to old haunts while at the woodland edge Woodlark will be in full song. Keep an eye out for reptiles making the most of sunny south facing slopes, while Toads will be on the move overnight. Back in the woodland, March is a great time to hear and see the distinctive drumming of the Lesser Spotted Woodpecker (I always think they sound like a WW2 machine gun that you hear in action films) while Hawfinch can be equally active and easier to see before bud burst in April and May hides their world once again!


February walk highlights

Unsettled weather throughout the month impacted the number of activities. In all we managed to run eight scheduled walks, three boat trips, two bespoke walks and two young explorer events.


One of the highlights of the month for me was the Young Explorers trip to Hockey’s Farm where we had a tour of the farm, learning about sustainable farming in the New Forest followed by a fun bioblitz. The tour of the farm was especially insightful, and the whole group found it thought provoking.


The boat trips produced a nice mix of species with White-tailed Eagle becoming more regular along with Merlin and Goshawk frequently putting on a good show. A number of interesting wintering wetland species such as Great Northern Diver, Spoonbill and Avocet were seen on most trips.

Images: Dewdrop Bonnet, Slavonian Grebe & Fallow Bucks taken on trips through Feb 2024 © Wild New Forest Guided Tours


February fieldwork

A fairly quiet month for fieldwork with the main focus on monitoring Hawfinch roosts across the Forest. During the month we also monitored a small number of trail cameras placed for Pine Marten in three locations. The cameras have been placed ahead of the core season to help with planning and to check on activity during what is a quiet period for Pine Marten.


The cameras picked up Pine Marten activity in two of the three locations.  Jack Snipe, Pennington Marshes, Feb 2024 © Tommy Saunders

Other fieldwork included nocturnal surveys of Lymington/Keyhaven Marshes looking at distribution and numbers of feeding Snipe and Jack Snipe. These trial sessions have proven quite successful and form the basis of a wider survey looking at both species. NFRG (New Forest Ringing Group) were active in the north of the New Forest, catching and colour-ringing one new Hawfinch.


Looking ahead

Through March and April we still have a few spaces available on forthcoming boat trips. We have recently added a new boat trip to the schedule that will tour the river looking for wildlife, stopping at the Royal Southampton Yacht Club where we will come to ashore for a bacon roll and hot drink while watching the birdlife on the river. In addition we have added a monthly schedule of Photographic Workshops, focussing on a different seasonal subject each month.

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

Another busy month on social media with a mixed bag of news items covering a whole range of species from across the New Forest - there is always something to learn. This month’s most popular post was the lovely image of an Adder posted by John Combes. 


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. As always, when posting.

 

Get involved

This new section will list organisations looking for volunteers for fieldwork in the New Forest and highlight where records can be submitted. Please do get in contact (details on website) if you would like to be added to list.


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 (https://www.bto.org/how-you-can-help/take-part-project)


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/


Record Pool collects data on herpetofauna (reptiles and amphibians) in the UK and  makes it available, locally and nationally, for conservation purposes https://www.recordpool.org.uk/


Reviews

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

 

An amazing winter day in the New Forest National Park! (posted 23/02/24)

We went on a full day guided wildlife watching tour with Marcus and Emily and it was such a wonderful experience. The New Forest is actually not far from us but we had never been there before and we wanted to enjoy this National Park with someone who knew the landscape and the wildlife intimately.Marcus has encyclopaedic knowledge about the history and nature of the New Forest and Emily helped us see fantastic Lichens and mushrooms that we would have easily overlooked otherwise. Without their knowledge and guidance we would have never seen or heard several of the fast moving and hard to find woodland birds. Our highlight in the morning was a rare but awesome sighting of the Lesser Spotted woodpecker! We walked around different habitats in the New Forest and also visited the coast to see some very special Spoonbills, Avocets, Spotted Redshanks and many other wading birds. All in all a highly enjoyable day and highly recommended!

                                                                                                                                                                           

Forthcoming illustrated talks


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)

8 Apr 2024: Brockenhurst WI (Pine Marten in the New Forest)








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