Russ and Marcus write:
Due to coronavirus restrictions limiting many WNF activities, Russ and Marcus have decided to produce this combined summary for the period May to July 2020.
The fine and dry conditions that commenced in mid-March continued throughout May, with Met Office data indicating it was just over 1oC warmer than average and both the driest (17% of average rainfall) and sunniest May (157% of average sunshine) on record. Many locations in the New Forest recorded no rain at all for most of the month. However, a brief colder spell in the second week led to some late overnight frost.
The weather finally changed to a more unsettled theme in June, although mean temperatures were again about 1oC above the long-term average and temperatures >30oC were recorded in the New Forest on 24th-25th. Sunshine levels were about average, but it was a wet month with rainfall levels at 143% of the average.
July was also rather mixed, with periods of unsettled weather interspersed with some hot spells. It was slightly cooler than average, but rainfall and sunshine levels were more normal. The hottest weather occurred on the final day of the month, with temperatures again reaching about 30oC in the New Forest.
Fine weather and ongoing COVID-19 control measures meant that Russ and Marcus both spent lots of time covering sites close to their respective homes; this footpath at Woodlands produced a migrant Hoopoe for Russ earlier in the spring and plenty of other notable sightings
Ongoing COVID-19 control measures at the start of the period meant that casual fieldwork continued to be restricted to daily exercise sessions on foot or bike from the house. Access restrictions began to ease from 11 May onwards, but many facilities in the New Forest remained closed. Although it was possible to resume casual visits across the forest, all field based WNF educational activities remained on hold. Unfortunately, this included the 2020 New Forest Wildlife Camp, which had to be cancelled. On the upside, membership of the WNF Facebook page saw a big upsurge to nearly 4000 members, with most new members being locals, and there were lots of positive comments about the informative, interesting and inspiring content.
The easing of lockdown restrictions and lack of alternative leisure options saw unprecedented numbers of visitors in the New Forest from mid-May onwards, coinciding with a crucial period for ground-nesting birds and other wildlife. There were particular issues around verge parking, exacerbated by ongoing closure of some car parks, and WNF contributed to a BBC News story that highlighted some of the potential ecological impacts:
The WNF ‘2020 in 2020’ challenge (an attempt to find 2020 species in the New Forest National Park in 2020) continued throughout the period. By the end of July, Russ and Marcus were both individually close to the target total of 1176 species, and the combined WNF total was comfortably ahead. Further details will be provided later in the year.
During June and July, Russ and Marcus conducted a series of nocturnal bioblitz sessions, focussed on moth trapping and bat detecting, but also recording any other species of note. Some of these were conducted under Forestry England licence in high-quality woodland and wetland habitats on the Crown Lands, but several were on private land around the fringes of the New Forest to support landowners engaging in (or considering) wildlife enhancement projects. These produced some great records, including the Nationally Scarce moth species Festoon and Cloaked Carpet, and the Nationally Scarce jumping spider Evarcha arcuata. Recent colonists such as Roesel’s Bush Cricket and Wasp Spider also seemed to be thriving at several sites.
The warm weather meant it was an excellent period for insects, and Russ focussed particular effort on moth trapping and recording of insects and other invertebrates in his Woodlands garden. Moth highlights included two Red Data Book species in the form of Dingy Mocha and Light Crimson Underwing, both of which are probably breeding locally, and also a spectacular Goat Moth. Another rare Red Data Book species was the Shoulder-striped Clover, photographed by day at a local heathland site on 01 July. The other insect highlight was the Nationally Scarce click beetle, Ampedus sanguinolentus, found while taking a lunch break at Half Moon Common on 12 May. Russ also recorded male and female Stag Beetles and his first Wasp Spiders in the garden at the end of July, and another specimen of the rare Lichen Running Spider in nearby Busketts Wood. Several Honey Buzzard sightings included a ringed female photographed while passing low overhead at a local heathland site in June. Plant highlights included a nice variety of New Forest specialities from mid-May onwards, including parasitic Pale Butterwort and Dodder, prehistoric Royal Fern, colourful Heath Fragrant Orchid and Wild Gladiolus, and the more subtle Coral Necklace and Marsh Clubmoss.
This Light Crimson Underwing was one of several recorded by Russ and Marcus during the review period
Stag Beetles appeared to benefit from the warm weather, with both Russ and Marcus recording multiple individuals in their gardens - this fine male was in Russ' garden in Woodlands
Wild Gladiolus is very much a New Forest speciality - this one was photographed amongst bracken at a traditional site in June
Restrictions related to Covid-19 meant that some of Marcus’ ongoing Hawfinch fieldwork activities (particularly GPS tracking) had to be postponed to 2021. However, the lifting of access restrictions in early May allowed some activities to resume, and a total of ten new Hawfinches were colour-ringed before the close of the season in early June. Other ringing highlights included a brood of Peregrine chicks at the coast as part of a national project - both chicks are still active around the local area at the time of writing. Marcus also spent some time focussing on Lesser Redpoll, a poorly recorded species in the New Forest with the last documented breeding in 2002. Breeding was confirmed at two locations with at least seven territories recorded and two fledglings colour-ringed; additional records from Russ and other colleagues suggests a forest-wide total in excess of ten territories this year – an encouraging result and something to build upon in future years. Invertebrate highlights included watching a colony of the nationally scarce Narrow-bordered Bee-Hawk Moth, while in the garden up to four clumsy Stag Beetles provide entertainment putting on a nightly display. The floral highlight was Marsh Helleborine, recorded at a site in the south of the New Forest in early July.
This pair of Peregrine chicks at the New Forest coast were fitted with colour rings as part of a long-term study
Marcus made the most of this rare opportunity to photograph resting Narrow-bordered Bee Hawk-moth
Marsh Helleborines photographed at a traditional site in the southern New Forest
A further update on the WNF Raven survey in mid-May (see link below) confirmed the presence of 13 confirmed nests where adults were seen carrying nesting material or food on multiple occasions, of which at least four had fledged young. Four of these nests, located in the north and east of the New Forest, were on pylons, with the remainder in tall conifers. There were a further four locations where birds were probably breeding but confirmation wasn’t achieved, all of which were ‘traditional’ nest locations. It therefore looks like at least 17 pairs of Ravens are currently breeding in the New Forest, with at least seven or eight additional territories occupied by non-breeding immature birds. Further survey work is planned next year to firm up this finding and gain a better understanding of productivity.
WNF are committed to minimising car-based travel when undertaking fieldwork and other relevant activities in the New Forest and will normally publish a monthly statement for those Directors undertaking WNF activities on a full-time basis. However, due to the exceptional circumstances associated with COVID-19 restrictions, and the undertaking of two commissioned reports that are still ongoing, detailed data will be released later in the year.