Russ and Marcus write:
It was an exceptionally wet month, with Met Office records indicating it was the wettest February since records began in 1862, with values in central southern England being as much as 250% higher than the average over recent decades. It was also a very windy month, with Storm Ciara on 9th producing gusts up to 97 mph on the nearby Needles Headland, and Storm Dennis on 15th and Storm Jorge on 28th also generating high winds and rainfall. Surprisingly, sunshine values were about average, but it was 2-3oC milder than the recent average, with few frosts.
The unrelenting wet and windy weather meant that the New Forest was sporadically affected by local flooding, and large numbers of trees came down. Fieldwork was challenging, with hindered progress along many rides, and some areas becoming completely inaccessible.
Starting with the WNF “2020 in 2020” challenge (an attempt to find 2020 species in the New Forest National Park in 2020), Russ and Marcus put in 91 field-hours during the month and had recorded a total of 277 species by the end of February – this is behind the projected target of 332, which is not unexpected, given the dearth of flora and invertebrate activity at this season, and the fact that most of the common winter birds and mammals were already recorded in January.
February highlights for Russ included several spectacular views of displaying Goshawks in the bright and breezy weather, seeing the first returning Curlew on territory, photographing a day-flying Serotine Bat, finding a bizarre False Puffball slime mould, identifying a colour-ringed Peregrine on winter territory near his house (that coincidentally had been ringed the previous summer by Marcus and his team at the coast), and getting some dramatic sunset shots of floodwater at Longwater Lawn near Lyndhurst.
Russ also represented the New Forest Curlew Project at a Curlew Summit at Highgrove House on 7th, hosted by Prince Charles, and contributed to a press release on the event led by New Forest National Park Authority:
The incessantly windy weather, coupled with work commitments, hampered Marcus’ Hawfinch survey and ringing work – nevertheless, he managed to count about 20 roosts and colour-ringed five new birds, and set up two bait stations with accompanying camera traps. He observed Hawfinches pairing up and becoming increasingly vocal, as well as Lesser Spotted Woodpeckers drumming from 6th, and Goshawks heard mating in the vicinity of Hawfinch roosts from 10th (it is a testament to their population increase that they are heard mating around most Hawfinch roosts during February!). An interesting ringing recovery involved a Siskin, ringed on 14th Feb 2019 in Lymington, and found dead at Newcastelton in the Scottish Borders on 29th Feb 2020.
WNF had productive meetings with New Forest National Park Authority and Forestry England about future eco-tourism and educational activities, and also gave a Wild New Forest talk to Dorset Wildlife Trust in Christchurch, initiated a New Forest Raven survey, and attended a Snipe survey workshop hosted by Hampshire Ornithological Society and Forestry England. Daily blogs were uploaded to the WNF website throughout the month, with the most popular describing a White-tailed Eagle sighting in the New Forest receiving over 660 views.
WNF are committed to minimising car-based travel when undertaking fieldwork and other relevant activities in the New Forest, and will publish a monthly statement for those Directors undertaking WNF activities on a full-time basis: During February, Russ put in about 64 field-hours and covered 690 km on WNF activities, with 51% of this distance achieved by walking and cycling, 31% by train, and 18% by car. Attendance at the Highgrove Curlew Summit generated an additional 323 km of travel outside the National Park (68% by train and 32% by car).