New Forest Wildlife Camp 2022
Our fourth New Forest Wildlife Camp took place on 27-29 May 2022, and for the second year running our venue was Cameron’s Cottage at RSPB Franchises Lodge in the northern New Forest. We (Wild New Forest) co-ordinate the camps, supported by our sponsors at the Cameron Bespolka Trust and our family and friends, including several local wildlife experts who generously give up their time for free. This year a total of 17 young wildlife enthusiasts between the ages of 12 and 18 attended the camp, which ensured we had a full house and one that was filled to the brim with energy and enthusiasm! This blog provides an illustrated overview of the weekend’s activities and some of the numerous wildlife highlights.
Friday 27 May
Our attendees arrived at Cameron’s Cottage in the early evening, and an icebreaker quiz and an abundance of pizza soon helped get everyone settled in! The local wildlife was quick to make its presence felt, with a vocal pair of nest-building Grey Wagtails on and around the cottage, a Lesser Stag Beetle ponderously crawling around on the brickwork, and a singing Firecrest audible from the back door. As dusk fell it was time to get out in the forest for a quick wildlife safari - a couple of roding Woodcocks and a Common Pipistrelle bat were recorded, and on our return a Cherry Bark Tortrix moth was an early visitor to the moth traps. After supper and a raucous round of card games it was time for bed!
Listening for bats and watching for Woodcocks at dusk.
Saturday 28 May
We emerged from the cottage shortly after dawn at 0500 hrs to check the moth traps and were soon joined by some of the keener attendees. The early start was worthwhile, as we were treated to a lovely sunrise and the sight of three Scarce Merveille du Jour moths – this is a rare Red Data Book species of Oak woodlands that has its national stronghold in the New Forest. Other moth highlights included Poplar, Pine and Privet Hawk Moths, Peach Blossom, and both Pale Oak and Great Oak Beauty (the latter being another nationally scarce species that has a stronghold in the New Forest).
The attendees got to enjoy views of the bird feeders and surrounding woodland during their wake-up wash!
Despite the early start, most of the attendees were up at dawn to help look through the moth traps.
A trio of Scarce Merveille du Jour, a rare Red Data Book species, was a good start to the day!
A nice image of Pine Hawk-moth, beautifully camouflaged on a Scots Pine, taken by Rosie.
Great Oak Beauty (left) and Pale Oak Beauty were also found in the moth traps.
After everyone had grabbed some breakfast and a packed lunch, we headed out to explore the Franchises Lodge nature reserve. By the time we had walked a few hundred metres down the track we had already found Goshawk feathers, a Spotted Flycatcher, a Chaffinch nest, and an impressive-looking Sabre Wasp found by Zac.
The group heading out from Cameron's Cottage
Marcus showing a dislodged bird nest found on the trail, probably from a Chaffinch.
This fearsome-looking but harmless Sabre Wasp was a good find.
As the day warmed up, we saw Peregrine, Goshawk and Red Kite take to the skies, and down by the lake we saw (and heard) a displaying Woodlark, a family party of Little Grebes, and a large female Raft Spider.
Female Raft Spider on Pondweed.
Andy Page, Head of Wildlife Management for Forestry England in the New Forest, discusses the importance of deer management (with a deer shooting platform in the background).
Preparing to check the corrugated iron sheets in the meadow for reptiles and other mini-beasts.
One of many Common Toads found in the meadow, along with several Common Frogs.
After lunch we split into three teams for a ‘friendly’ bioblitz competition. After an hour or so of intense searching the top two teams had recorded 166 and 165 species, respectively, with highlights including a Roesel’s Bush Cricket nymph, a Wasp Spider egg case, and a Fringed Polypore fungus. After a long walk back to the cottage we were all ready for an ice cream or two, followed by a couple of hours of leisure time (or nap time for me and Marcus!).
Lunch amongst the Foxgloves.
A few early fungi contributed to the bioblitz totals, including this Deer Shield.
Fringed Polypore is a rather scarce fungus that emerges in spring.
This bright yellow Dog Vomit Slime Mould was a popular find during the bioblitz!
After dinner we headed back out to the open forest, where the attendees were provided with useful and insightful careers advice from Nigel Jones and Tommy Saunders (one of our wildlife camp alumni) and got to learn more about the origins and work of Wild New Forest. We returned to the cottage at dusk, where some of the attendees were able to hear a distant churring Nightjar.
The attendees enjoying dessert in the outdoor leaning centre.
This decaying Beech tree covered in Southern Bracket fungi the size of dinner plates provided a scenic backdrop for a group photo at Franchises Lodge.
The open heath provided a nice evening location for informal careers talks.
Sunday 29 May
It was another early start to check the moth traps, and we then transferred to a site on the open forest where Marcus and his team of BTO licensed bird ringers were able to demonstrate bird ringing in action (under the relevant BTO and FE permits). The highlights included an amazing series of nine adult and juvenile Hawfinches, and a Great Spotted Woodpecker. The attendees included several ringing trainees, and it was a great opportunity for them to handle and ring bird species they hadn’t previously encountered. A slow-motion video showing a trio of ringed Hawfinches being released can be viewed here (note the pure joy on Rosie's face and the ever-alert Colin immediately hunting for a dislodged Hawfinch feather!).
Marcus is always smiling when he has a Hawfinch in the hand!
Rosie was one of several bird-ringing trainees who got to handle their first Hawfinch.
Attendees learned about the importance of bird ringing and the correct way to handle birds.
During a lull in the ringing, a few of the group accompanied Andy Page to look for Dartford Warblers in an area of gorse-covered heathland and were soon enjoying good views of at least two of the target species as well as Stonechat and Woodlark.
Andy carefully guided some of the attendees to a safe location to view Dartford Warblers.
The remainder of the day was spent exploring a variety of heathland, bog, and mixed woodland habitats on the open forest. The heathland produced a series of nationally scarce species, including a Hobby falcon, a rare click beetle Ampedus sanguinolentus found by Jackson, and the subtly attractive Coral Necklace plant. We also found a dead Slow Worm that appeared to have been trampled or predated. In a boggy area we located carnivorous Round-leaved Sundew plants, while several overflying Hawfinches were seen and heard.
This nationally scarce click beetle, Ampedus sanguinolentus, was a great find.
Green Tiger Beetle was another colourful find on the heathland.
A cracking image of Round-leaved Sundews by Rosie.
The heat of the day was starting to take its toll by lunch!
Marcus then took us into a large block of woodland where he has been recording lots of Pine Marten activity as part of an ongoing project with Forestry England and partners - the group were shown recent footage from camera traps and some fresh Pine Marten scats on a fallen tree.
The group retreated to the shade of the woodlands to learn about New Forest Pine Marten research.
We returned to the cottage in the mid-afternoon for an ice cream and a quick bird quiz, with the winners (Rosie Johnson and Sreyaan Akkaraju) each receiving a new bird guide as a prize (kindly donated by Martin Bennett). After a quick debrief, it was soon time for the attendees to pack their bags before the first parents arrived, but not before Max emerged with a final surprise in the form of a fly that had been infected with the Entomophthroa muscae fungus – this pathogenic fungus infects flies and gradually controls the physical functions of the unfortunate victim, ultimately guiding them to an elevated position such as the tip of a grass stem where they open their wings prior to death to facilitate fungal spore dispersal. A grim but fascinating end!
This unfortunate fly was a victim of the Zombie Fly Fungus Entomophthroa muscae.
Overall, it was another exhausting but enjoyable weekend with a great bunch of attendees and support staff, and an amazing variety of nationally scarce flora and fauna. We have provisionally booked Cameron’s Cottage for another camp this autumn, over the weekend of 22-23 Oct.
Corinne talking to the group about the background and vision for Cameron's Cottage.
A True Lovers Knot moth and lots of happy smiling faces!
We are grateful to the Cameron Bespolka Trust for again sponsoring the camp and to RSPB for hosting us at Franchises Lodge. Many thanks to our regular support team, which included Andrew Colenutt, Nigel Jones, Andy Page, Ali Dennis, Jane Pownall and Tommy Saunders. Finally, Marcus and I are both lucky to have supportive families who again provided invaluable help with cooking, cleaning, and general logistics over the weekend. Thanks all!