As the days get shorter and we get closer to the clocks changing at the end of the month, there is still plenty of wildlife to experience in the New Forest. October is one of my favourite months of the year, not only is the Forest looking beautiful as the leaves start to turn but I love the fresh smell of autumn. Out in our deciduous woodland leaf fall will start to pick up as we move through the month. It takes me back to my own childhood, and later to taking my own children out catching falling leaves (harder than it seems), wearing wellies for the first time of the year, and seeing who can get the best haul of leaves.
While out, keep an eye out for a Goat Moth tree. Often a veteran Oak in a prominent position, they give themselves away with a dark run of sap that has been produced as a result of Goat Moth larvae burrowing to consume the wood of the deciduous host tree. The resulting burrow produces a sap run that attracts a range of insects including Hornets and Wasps that feed on the sugary sap keeping the wound open. Goat Moth trees also give themselves away as they are a magnet for butterflies, in particular Red Admiral, Peacock, Small Tortiseshell and Comma as well as a range of flying insects that can create an audible hum. The Goat Moth itself is an interesting species, so named because it has an aroma of Goat. Our heaviest moth, the larvae can live in the tree for up to five years and individual Goat Moth trees are favoured for many generations. If you are fortunate enough to find a Goat Moth tree, mark the location and be sure to check it out whenever in the area. I have a few that I keep an eye on, I am always a guaranteed sighting of something interesting.
As I mentioned in last months newsletter, Ivy is in flower at the moment and much like the Goat Moth tree, it can be a magnet for nectaring insects. Just last week on a walk at the coast, our group paused by a patch of flowering Ivy in a sunny hollow where the air was positively buzzing with the activity of multiple Ivy Bees and numerous Wasps, Bee’s and Hoverflies along with a gaggle of butterflies including Painted Lady, Comma and Red Admiral. Anyone that has been out and about recently couldn’t have failed to notice the large numbers of Red Admiral that are on the wing at the moment. Recently I conducted a bird survey that required me to stand and monitor a location for a few hours and during the period of the survey I logged over 50 Red Admiral on the move. These will almost certainly be the offspring of migrants that arrived on our shores earlier this year from southern Europe. Research suggests that at least some of these will be working their way back south, though it is still not fully understood what proportion of the population move back south in the autumn. Our warmer winters brought about by climate change will potentially benefit those Red Admiral that opt to remain and hibernate in the UK for the winter months.
Images from the top, Goat Moth and Ivy Mining Bee on Ivy ©Wild New Forest 2023
Already, it is not unusual to see Red Admiral on the wing on mild and sunny winter days, dense clumps of Ivy are favoured for hibernation as are garden sheds and outbuildings; in fact I recall some years ago at Christmas watching a Great Grey Shrike near Brockenhurst that deftly caught a Red Admiral in flight. The unfortunate insect must have ventured out in the mild conditions. I was very excited with my split-second view of the unseasonable
butterfly before it was snapped up by the Shrike! Speaking of species on the move, it is the time of year when overnight we hear the seep seep call of the Redwing on the move. I always marvel at these nocturnal migrants. Recently I used our thermal imaging camera to see if I could spot the Redwing on the move and was amazed at the numbers passing overhead in the early hours of the morning. Another species I love to hear is the Goldcrest. Each year we get an influx from points further east and these unobtrusive birds are easily overlooked in parks and gardens. Unlike the Redwing that are seeking out berry-bearing trees such as Holly and Hawthorn (of which there are plenty at the moment) the Goldcrest are escaping colder conditions further east. These tiny birds (our smallest) have a fast metabolism that requiring them to constantly search for invertebrate prey in dense cover. Our milder winters provide the conditions for their target prey to survive but a sudden cold snap can be devastating for our Goldcrest. Even a couple of days of below-freezing weather can prevent our Goldcrest from feeding, causing them to lose the vital energy needed to maintain body warmth and continue foraging. It amazes me every year that these tiny birds (weighing in at just 5 grams) make the arduous journey across the North Sea to spend the winter in our woodlands, hedgerows and gardens, often hanging out with flocks of tits and other wintering warblers.
Images Red Admiral on a Goat Moth oak and Goldcrest © Wild New Forest 2023
What to look for in November
November can be an unsettled month, as the month passes our deciduous trees will lose their leaf cover, this combined with seasonal storms blowing in from the Atlantic can make it a good month to go out looking for lichens. The New Forest is arguably one of the best places in Europe to observe Lichen, which can be seen in any habitat but our ancient deciduous woodlands can be full of a range of species. From the crust-like crustose lichen that can be found on the bark of beech trees to the classic moss-like cladonia species and the amazing fruticose lichens such as Old Mans Beard. You don’t have to know the names of the various species to enjoy exploring the many shapes and textures, each time I head out I learn a little more and this extraordinary taxa.
Another spectacle that can often go unnoticed is the regular passage of Wood Pigeon along the south coast, some years many thousands can be seen passing over from east to west on early November mornings. The flocks can sometime be so large that the combined sound of many hundreds of pairs wing beating in every flock can be awe inspiring. This is the one time of year this everyday species can be captivating. I recall standing in Lymington high street mid-morning as a flock of around 600 passed over, the cumulative sound of 1200 beating wings was amazing, despite this nobody in the busy high street appeared to even notice the spectacle going on over head. The numbers aren’t just limited to the coast, huge numbers will roost in the New Forest overnight. Through early November, while checking Hawfinch roosts at dawn large numbers can be seen emerging from various roosts sites, circling and amassing above the canopy, bringing to mind world war two bombers rendezvousing before heading off on a raid.
September walk highlights
A mixed month with good periods of settled, hot and dry weather interspersed with a couple of named storms made for an interesting month. Overall, we ran eight scheduled Walks, four bespoke Walks, four Boat Trips, a Wader ID Masterclass and two Bird Ringing demos for our young explorers and young members of HOS.
This month saw the first of our scheduled Fungi Walks which were productive, despite the dry conditions ensuring some of the more transient species becoming somewhat desiccated. This year we have added a couple of new areas which are proving very productive. I do love fungi season! Our young persons walk this month was a Ringing demo at Keyhaven where the youngsters were treated to in-the-hand views of some great birds including Stonechat and Siskin. The following week we were joined by young HOS members who were lucky enough to see Kingfisher and Firecrest in the hand.
Image Tigers Eye Fungi © Wild New Forest 2023
Our second Wader ID Course was good fun and the group was rewarded with a nice mix of waders at Normandy Marsh. The Beaulieu River Boat Trips continue to be a favourite and we were fortunate to record Osprey on most trips as well as some great views of the regular Seals.
September fieldwork highlights
Bird ringing was again a feature of the month with regular sessions at Keyhaven and Normandy focussing on migrating species. Most numerous in September were Blackcap and Chiffchaff with many 100s passing through, using the marshes as a pit stop before making the crossing to the continent.
The Pine Martin survey wrapped up for the year with the cameras being bought in from the final area in the south-east of the New Forest. Now the focus switches to processing and analysing the data amassed this year while also making plans for the next stages of the survey.
A number of other surveys drew to a close for the year. However, the unseasonably hot weather gave the opportunity to get the moth traps out. This time of year can also be good for bats, with the year’s offspring boosting numbers and becoming more active on the wing as they get into condition for the season ahead.
Our Fungi Explorer Walks continue to prove popular. We have had requests to run a longer walk to enable us to go deeper into the woodland and allow for more time with each species. We will add a couple of dates based on small group size with a maximum of eight guests.
We have also recently added two all-day Birding Walks. These small group eight-hour sessions will mainly be focused at the coast but will include a visit to a communal Hawfinch roost at either dusk or dawn (or maybe both). These walks will be taken at a relaxed pace with plenty of time to discuss all things birding. We will keep a record of all that we identify and it is not unreasonable to see 100 species at this time of year.
We have added a new date in our series of ID masterclasses, this time focussing on wildfowl identification at the coast. The event will follow the usual schedule of illustrated talk over a cooked breakfast before spending some time in the field but our new skill to the test.
The communal Finch and Hawfinch roosts are now building up for the winter. We will add in a few Walks to look at communally roosting Hawfinch and to discuss all aspects of Hawfinch and other winter woodland species. This year looks set to have a bumper mast crop which should ensure plenty of food for our Hawfinch.
Our current schedule of Events is listed below, our booking platform can be reached via our website at https://www.wildnewforest.co.uk/event-calendar
As ever the Facebook page remained busy with a diverse mix of interesting posts about life and wildlife in the New Forest. Our most popular post this month featured a regular group of pigs out for pannage for the season, although not strictly speaking wildlife, they are an integral part of the New Forest. Our second most popular post from regular contributor, Steve Laycock featured ‘The Strange Oak’, potentially the 6th largest Oak in the Forest. An apt reminder that the New Forest holds an nationally important number of veteran trees supporting internationally important numbers of lichen, fungi and beetles among other avian and mammalian species.
Wild New Forest Vouchers
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Wild New Forest Newsletter
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Forthcoming Illustrated Talks
18 Oct 2023: RSPB Basingstoke (A New Forest Wildlife Year)
19 Oct 2023: HIWWT Winchester (The New Forest Pine Marten Project)
25 Oct 2023: RSPB Guildford (A New Forest Wildlife Year)
16 Nov 2023: Fordingbridge 93 Club (A New Forest Wildlife Year)
18 Nov 2023: The New Forest Rambling Club (A New Forest Wildlife Year)
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