A Wildlife Patch
Watching a patch is not only a great way to connect with wildlife but I also find it a great to have a go-to spot that you get to know intimately where you can either spend time processing those big decisions in life or just get 30 minutes to detox your mind in an otherwise busy day. From getting to know the area over a period you really appreciate the changes in the season and at times the wildlife can feel as familiar as family at home. You don’t have to be there all the time, I go through phases of daily visits followed by periods where I might visit infrequently, but either way it is almost with a deep sigh, like visiting a safe place, some might choose a ‘duvet day’ but for me that safe place is my patch.
Normandy Lagoon © Wild New Forest
So let me introduce you to my wildlife patch, Normandy Marsh, Lymington. I have been visiting as a patch for over 20 years, anybody that knows me will know I am bird orientated but have a passion for all wildlife, by visiting a patch regularly you get to know what to expect and when, but it is always the surprises that are rewarding. I have had many highlights over the years but they don’t always have to be super rare, one of my favourites was finding a day-roosting Long-eared Owl on my birthday or just the unexpected, such as finding an out of place Chalkhill Blue or White Admiral on a sunny summers afternoon.
There are highlights to each season, some of them regular events that I look forward to each year such as spring and autumn passage, the first Brent Geese of the year or my favourite, the general hubub of the breeding season, watching nesting gull, terns and waders go about their business – a stressful time for them but very therapeutic to immerse yourself into.
Long-eared Owl at Normandy Marsh ©Wild New Forest
To help give a little something back I like to take part in any surveys that I can, such as the monthly WeBS (Wetland Bird Survey) coordinated by British Trust for Ornithology (BTO). We also opertate a CES (Constant Effort Survey) which is a bird ringing study close-by at Keyhaven, also coordinated by BTO. We are also involved in colour-ringing studies of the terns and Peregrine nesting on site to help build a better understanding of their ecology and movements. In the past we have taken part in both Butterfly and Bee transects. It is important to make the most of data collected by sharing with the relevant organisations to help build a better understand of the status and distribution of species in the area.
Although watching the patch for over 20 years there are still species I am keen to see, top of the list has to be the Sea Aster Mining Bee which as the name suggests is associated with Sea Aster or Michalmas Daisy.
Despite all this I think the most important aspect of patch watching for me has been the escapism an area you know intimately can offer, it doesn’t have to be a well known coastal hot spot, as a lad my patch was Blackbushe Airfield in north Hampshire which I found equally rewarding. I would encourage anyone to adopt a patch and enjoy the annual highs and lows.
What to look for in June and July
During the heat of the summer wildlife watching can be slow, on those hot days it is definitely best to be out early and late before the heat of the day slows everything down. At this time of year a lot of my focus switches to the smaller things, each year I look forward to the carpet of Silver-studded Blue across our heaths, and while out there enjoying the annual spectacle of Orchids, sometimes it is easy to take them for granted but I try to take the time to enjoy the colour and the annual challenge of identifying some of the trickier species that are well known to hybridise.
This time of year I like to take a little time next to a water body and enjoy the plethora of life associated even with the smallest pond, from impressive dragonflies interacting with one another to water beetles and their larva, though for me the prize is stopping to watch a hunting Raft Spider, you can easily lose hours just watching the water. During dry periods our water bodies become vitally important for a range of species from inverts, to birds and mammals so do sit down quietly and watch the coming and going, often high stakes of life and death at a water body, every visit is enthralling and different!
May walk highlights
Thanks to largely settled and dry weather through the month we managed to run a full schedule of tours which included 13 guided walks, 2 bespoke walks and 4 boat trips on the Beaulieu River.
Highlights were many and varied from a good emergence of invertebrates adding some extra colour to our tours with dragonflies, butterflies and day flying moths in particular being a focus of attention after what as been a cold and slow spring. It has been lovely to see bud-burst this month in the Forest with what appears to be potentially a good seed crop on the cards for this autumn.
May is a great month for both passage and breeding birds with the boat trips in particular producing a good mix of species including a couple of trips with White-tailed Eagle and the regular Harbour & Grey Seals. Our Spring Woodland Butterfly Walk produced an even mix of butterfly and moth species with the highlight being a very fresh and cooperative Pearl-bordered Fritillary. The young persons walk this month focussed on heathland bird song and didn’t disappoint with some good opportunities to see and hear classic heathland species.
Pearl-bordered Fritillary, May 2023 ©Wild New Forest
May is one of the busiest months of the year for fieldwork, this month bird ringing has been a major part of our fieldwork with trips to Sway and New Milton to ring broods of Peregrine as part of a national scheme and we have been working with RSPB researching trichomonosis in Hawfinch, a disease that has devastated our Greenfinch population in recent years. The focus of our Hawfinch studies this month has been the BTO RAS survey (Ringing Adults for Survival), so far this season we have colour-ringed around 45 new Hawfinch and have several hundred re-sightings of a similar number of birds colour-ringed in previous years. As with many species Hawfinch were about 10-14 days behind this year, but it is shaping up to be a productive season.
In addition, the Pine Marten survey continues with cameras being moved to a new site in late May, so far this year we have managed to accrue 53 records of Pine Marten from the two areas surveyed to date but the data needs further analysis which we be mainly one at the end of the field season. Unfortunately, this month a roadkill Pine Marten was found, the first for some years so we took the opportunity to conduct an autopsy and take samples for DNA analysis. The individual involved was a young male that had recently consumed a small mammal, but it was too digested to get down to species level!
Other fieldwork has included the regular suite of ongoing baseline surveys and monitoring that we are conducting at various private sites across the forest focussing bird, flora, mammals and invertebrates. With the warmer evening we also conduct a range of nocturnal surveys looking at bats, moths and other nocturnal invertebrates.
Peregrine chick,, May 2023 ©Wild New Forest
We have recently added some new walks for the summer period looking for summer butterflies and invertebrates and tree identification which will be looking at species that occur in the New Forest. We have limited places on Beaulieu River Boat Trips this month in addition to the rescheduled Beaulieu River and Lymington Marshes trip now taking place on 30 June.
Looking further ahead we will soon be adding a tranche of Fungi Explorer walks and will be adding a wading bird identification masterclass following a similar format to the recent bird song masterclass so that we are on form ahead of the key wader migration season this autumn.
Our current schedule of events and access to our booking platform can be reached via our website at https://www.wildnewforest.co.uk/book-online
Wild New Forest Facebook highlights
Now with over 10500 subscribers the Facebook page continues to be a hub of information and conversation about the New Forest. In addition to the wildlife pony foals where a popular topic this month, we remind subscribers to keep a respectful distance from the stock and not to interact with them, images should be taken from a safe distance without disturbance to either the stock or other wildlife.
As always we try to run a tight ship, we value informative, friendly atmosphere and encourage members to remain polite and respectful of those with opposing views. We try to actively moderate the site but as we are now in the busy field season we cant be watching 24/7 so please do raise any concerns directly with the moderators.
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We follow and promote the New Forest Code whilst in the field