Marcus and Russ write:
The first half of March saw a continuation of the wet and windy weather that dominated for much of the preceding winter, but high pressure gradually took charge leading to a drier and brighter second half. Met Office records showed that mean temperature for the month was just above the long-term average, with sunshine levels well above average (150%) and rainfall below average (80%). The spell of dry weather from mid-month onwards saw rapid retreat of areas affected by surface flooding, and the soil surface was even starting to look quite dry and parched in places by the end of the month!
Sunset at Salterns Marsh at the New Forest coast
The global coronavirus crisis eventually started to impact activities closer to home, and from 24 March onwards UK Government guidelines regarding ‘essential’ activities meant that any fieldwork was restricted to a daily exercise session on foot or bike from the house (as well as in the garden). With Russ and Marcus being based in Woodlands and Lymington, respectively, this still allowed access to a variety of coastal, woodland and heathland habitats, but inevitably impacted project work on Hawfinches and several other species.
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 176.5 field-hours during the month and recorded a total of 466 species by the end of March – this is not far behind the projected target of 502, with an increase in wildflower and invertebrate activity helping regain some of the ground lost in February. Cancelled holidays and reduced workloads also meant they both had more time to devote to recording local flora and fauna, e.g. Russ had recorded 185 species in his Woodlands garden by the end of the month.
Marcus completed his annual round of the 40 communal Hawfinch roosts that he has mapped in the New Forest (plus three outside the New Forest) to check that they are still active and to get a feel for the distribution of birds across the Forest. An overall total of 615 Hawfinch were counted, giving an average of 14.3 Hawfinch per roost. The highlight of the month was pinning down a new roost in a remote corner in the north of the New Forest - further work will be needed to get a better understanding of the dynamics of the area, but with 19 Hawfinch counted out of roost it is a good size (some were subsequently observed in intense courtship display, suggesting breeding in the vicinity). Ringing took place at two locations in the New Forest, with a total of four Hawfinch colour-ringed along with a good mix of woodland species.
Marcus also enjoyed recording a few Lesser Spotted Woodpeckers across the Forest, one or two in new locations. At the coast, mainly on family walks, it was good to record the first few migrant birds, butterflies and emerging spring flora, including favourites such as Sea Campion and Common Fumitory. A selection of images are shown below. While in the garden it was a delight to start regularly recording Hedgehog again, and moth catches finally started to get a little busier.
The first migrant Sandwich Terns returned to the New Forest coast in March
A quartet of slumbering Spoonbills!
Black-tailed Godwits started to develop their summer plumage
Russ enjoyed the long-awaited return of migrant birds such as Wheatear and Sand Martin, seeing a couple of Common Seals at the coast, finding Scarlet Tiger moth larvae in his back garden at night, photographing a scarce Lichen Running Spider, getting acquainted with False Puffball, Carnival Candy and Wolf’s Milk Slime Moulds(!), revisiting an internationally rare Pink Bracket fungus first found last autumn, and finding the nationally rare Three-lobed Water Crowfoot (or more likely a hybrid variant). However, the highlight was probably the profusion of colour emerging from local copses, roadside verges and meadows near his home, from the abundant Primroses, Lesser Celandines, Sweet Violets, Dog’s Mercury, Bluebells, Wood Anemones, and Greater Stitchworts, to the first appearance of attractive wildflowers such as Wood Sorrel, Honesty and Cuckooflower.
Lichen Running Spider
Wolf's Milk Slime Mould
Woodland flowers at an (ungrazed) location on the margins of the New Forest
WNF are co-ordinating a New Forest Raven survey this year, and initial responses to a call for sightings provided evidence for about 15-20 breeding pairs, an impressive increase considering the species only returned as a breeding bird in Hampshire in 2003.
Daily blogs were uploaded to the WNF website up to the start of the coronavirus lockdown, with subsequent (more sporadic) blogs focussing on wildlife gardening and garden wildlife.
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 March, Russ put in nearly 100 field-hours and covered 726.5 km on WNF activities, with 55% of this distance achieved by walking and cycling, 32% by car, and 13% by train.