Russ and Marcus write:
Friday 22 Oct
Our third Young Person’s New Forest Wildlife Camp kicked off as dusk fell and our teenage participants arrived at Franchises Lodge RSPB reserve in the northern New Forest. It was great for the parents and their kids to be able to walk down and see the newly renovated Cameron’s Cottage, which was to be our base for the weekend. A plethora of fungi flanked the path to the cottage and a buck Fallow Deer could be heard roaring in the forest nearby - his territorial cries would provide an atmospheric backdrop throughout the weekend.
Cameron's Cottage was our comfortable base for the weekend
As we entered the dining area of the cottage, we were greeted with the enticing smell of homemade veggie chilli and the cosy warmth of a wood-burning stove. Once the parents had departed and everyone had finished dinner, it was time for an introductory ice-breaker session facilitated by Helen, before we headed into the forest for a nocturnal wildlife hunt. Fungi highlights included the tiny yellow fruiting bodies of the Nut Disco on an acorn cup and the fluffy white Powderpuff Bracket on a decaying conifer branch. Leopard Slugs roamed around on every moss-covered tree, and a pair of Devil’s Coach Horse Beetles were found on the track. However, the biggest surprise was an abundance of Golden-brown Fern Moths Musotima nitidalis, a recent accidental import from New Zealand that appears to now be thriving on Bracken in the New Forest.
Every bug was carefully examined, photographed and identified by the attendees!
Saturday 23 Oct
Everyone was up bright and early on Saturday morning (no wake-up calls needed!) and after a quick breakfast the ringing team headed out into the darkness to erect the mist nets in the hope of catching a few birds. A Tawny Owl was heard calling in the depths of the forest, and as it got light the attendees got to see both Robin and Wren in the hand being ringed.
Andrew showing the attendees a Wren that was ready to be ringed
The ringing demo allowed the attendees to see familiar birds up close
It was then back to the cottage to check the two moth traps, where highlights included several colourful Merveille du Jour, an early December Moth, and further specimens of the Golden-brown Fern Moth. We were also delighted to receive a visit from Corinne Cruickshank of the Cameron Bespolka Trust who gave the attendees an inspiring speech about Cameron’s legacy and the vision for Cameron’s Cottage.
Photographing some of the moths trapped the previous night
Corinne and Lou providing an introduction to Cameron's Cottage and the RSPB reserve
Our next activity was a slow walk to the lake area, searching for wildlife along the way. Marcus deployed a couple of camera traps in the hope of catching nocturnal mammals and Lou gave us some useful insights into the woodland management work being undertaken by RSPB.
Marcus deploying a mammal camera trap
Lou talking about habitat management on the RSPB reserve
A few Deer Ticks were spotted along the margins of the path and Russ highlighted the potential dangers of Lyme’s Disease; he also took the opportunity to show the attendees some tiny Ergot fungus and talk about its hallucinatory properties! A herd of Fallow Deer were seen feeding on fields around a solar farm, and notable fungi included a specimen of the rare Tiered Tooth, several football-sized Cauliflower Fungi at the base of conifers, tiny Conifercone Caps growing out of a pine cone, and the jelly-like Leafy Brain.
Photographing a football-sized Cauliflower Fungus
Tiny Conifercone Cap fungi growing out of a pine cone
Leafy Brain, Turkeytail and Sulphur Tuft fungi
After a spot of lunch by the lake, where fly-over Buzzard, Raven and Crossbill were recorded, it was time for a mini-bioblitz competition. Three teams were each assigned a couple of leaders and given just over an hour to see how many species of plant and animal they could record. All three teams recorded between 130 and 150 species, with highlights including Raft Spider, Wood Cricket and Palmate Newt.
Russ' bioblitz team were all smiles after finding a Raft Spider!
The Raft Spider attracted lots of interest
Close-up view of the Raft Spider
We then searched the meadow for corrugated iron sheets that might be harbouring reptiles and amphibians, with both Common Toad and Field Vole being found. Energy levels were finally starting to dip for both attendees and leaders, so we slowly headed back to the cottage for a well-earned cuppa and cake and spent a quiet couple of hours checking reference books, chatting, and playing board games.
Lou checking the corrugated iron sheets for sheltering reptiles and amphibians
This Ruby Tiger moth larva crawling on Nigel's notebook was also found in the meadow
After a hearty dinner of macaroni cheese, baked potatoes and garlic bread, the attendees enjoyed hearing about conservation careers from Nigel and Helen. The re-energised team then headed out for another nocturnal walk, where the undoubted highlight was a Lobster Moth larva found at the base of a Beech tree. On our way back to the cottage a Badger was picked out on Nigel’s thermal imager and was also seen by some of the attendees.
Dinnertime at Cameron's Cottage!
A Lobster Moth larva was on the of the highlights of the weekend for many
Photographing the Lobster Moth larva
Detailed image of the bizarre Lobster Moth larva
Sunday 24 Oct
Another early start saw the ringing team capture a few more common woodland birds, which were brought up to the outdoor classroom area alongside the cottage for ringing. Andrew and Marcus were able to carefully demonstrate the various measurements being recorded, and the attendees were excited to see a pair of Treecreepers in the hand.
Checking spider ID before heading out to see the ringing team in action
Andrew supervising a Robin being ringed in the outdoor classroom area
Attendees were able to hold and ring a bird for the first time (under careful supervision)
A young trainee ringer practising taking wing measurements of a Treecreeper
Marcus demonstrating how to measure wing length of a Treecreeper
The moth traps contained some new species, including two rare Southern Chestnuts that had presumably wandered from nearby heathland on the increasing southwest breeze - this Red Data Book species was only discovered in 1990 and was therefore a new species for almost everyone. Marcus had recovered the camera traps and had downloaded the videos onto a laptop - everyone soon gathered around to see clips of Fallow Deer, Grey Squirrel and Wood Mouse from the previous night, but sadly no Pine Martens on this occasion!
Russ and Marcus checking their moth traps
Russ and Andy helping with moth identifications
This rare Southern Chestnut moth was a new species for all of the attendees
After breakfast and the obligatory team photo we walked out of Wiltshire and over the county boundary into Hampshire, and across an area of open forest. We were fortunate to have Andy Page with us (Head Keeper at Forestry England) who was able to talk about wildlife and woodland management, and some of the rich history of the area. A Dartford Warbler was spotted flicking around in a gorse bush on the open heath, and after a bit of teamwork the group got reasonable views and even got to hear and see it singing. A Beautiful Yellow Underwing moth larva was expertly spotted amongst the heather, and a well-marked specimen of the Heath Button moth Acleris hyemana was also found.
Andy talking about habitat management while others keep an eye out for passing birds
A sharp-eyed attendee spotted a Beautiful Yellow Underwing larva in the heather
Beautiful Yellow Underwing larva
One of our targets on the open heath was the rare Nail Fungus, but after an hour of looking closely at piles of pony dung we had just about given up hope. However, a shout of “Nail Fungus” saw excited teenagers (some even running!) converge around a large pile of poo to view and photograph the tiny white discs.
Happy faces after finding the rare Nail Fungus!
The Nail Fungus is the small white disc-like fungus on the upper surface of the dung
We then moved into an area of ancient woodland where the keen birders amongst the group were on high alert for Hawfinch, one of our main target species. A noisy Raven alighted in a nearby conifer, a Peregrine passed high overhead, and Marcus’ expert knowledge led us to an open clearing in an area of Beech woodland where at least two Hawfinch were eventually viewed in the treetops, much to the relief and delight of all concerned!
Tense moments as the group try to glimpse a Hawfinch in the treetops
Relieved smiles all round as Marcus helps the group get nice views of two Hawfinches
After a well-earned snack break, we meandered back through the wood, enjoying the wide range of fungi on show including colourful Yellow Shields and tiny Leaf Parachutes. While discussing the life and death of trees with Andy, a herd of free-roaming pigs passed by in their search for acorns. We returned to the cottage for a late lunch, which was followed by packing, cleaning, and a wrap-up discussion, before we converged upon the car park in the mid-afternoon for the parents to collect their happy and exhausted kids!
This Common Toad was found under a fallen log - both were carefully replaced
This tiny Leaf Parachute fungus was a great find
Andy talking about woodland management
Pigs in the forest!
In total we recorded nearly 100 species of fungi, 45 species of bird, over 30 species of moth, and numerous invertebrates, plants, and trees. Many of these were expertly spotted and identified by the young attendees, who constantly amazed and inspired us with their knowledge and enthusiasm. It was great to see the group sharing experiences and enjoying each other’s company after what has been a tough couple of years due to COVID-19 restrictions.
Team photo outside Cameron's Cottage
Finally, we are very grateful to Nigel Jones, Andy Page, Andrew Colenutt and Helen Schneider for leading various activities, and to our respective families and other colleagues for helping with preparations and logistics. Many thanks also to Anneka and Lou at RSPB for their assistance at Cameron’s Cottage, and of course to Corinne and the Cameron Bespolka Trust for generously providing sponsorship.
The attendees praised the cosy and homely atmosphere inside Cameron's Cottage
We (Wild New Forest) operate these wildlife camps on a not-for-profit basis and contribute a significant proportion of staff time for free as part of our community benefit portfolio. We’re hoping to run additional wildlife camps in spring and autumn 2022, again partnering with Cameron Bespolka Trust and RSPB, so keep an eye on the Wild New Forest website and Facebook page for further details.