Saturday, 30 July 2016

Avon Heath Country Park

Lying two miles west of Ringwood is Avon Heath Country Park. Managed by Dorset County Council with some support from the RSPB, Avon Heath consists mostly of heathland apart from the occasional clump of birch and pine trees. I haven’t been there for some time so I decided to visit on Wednesday.
Within a few minutes I was lucky enough something of interest:
OK, I have a confession to make. Although I did see a wild sand lizard shortly after this is a captive one. Avon Heath runs a sand lizard breeding program to help out the protected species.
Assuming the website is correct there are currently 2 male and 4 female sand lizards. As you can see above the males are a little bigger and are mostly green whereas the females are completely brown. It was early afternoon on a warm but not hot day so these lizards were basking in the sun. Apparently they are fed crickets by the rangers when the insects are less active.
As I say though, only a few hundred metres from the vivarium I saw a female sand lizard sat on a log as if to prove they are genuinely a native species.
Just behind the vivarium is a great wildlife area. What I really like about the wildlife area at Avon Heath is how natural it feels. Whilst they are a few bird feeders the area has a pond and lots of wild planting so it doesn’t feel quite so staged as some hides do. As soon as I walked into the hide I could see loads of bird life, most bathing in the pond to keep cool like this goldfinch.
I also spotted a female Emperor Dragonfly flitting around the pond and it eventually landed on a reed and started to lay some eggs.
It was interesting to see how the dragonfly rotated in a circle as if doing an impression of a clock, presumably to spread out the eggs. Dragonfly nymphs are the most ferocious predators in a pond so the currents residents will have to be wary in the future.
Like many such places, the area around the play park and the cafe was busy but as soon as you head off on the footpaths it becomes much quieter. Due to the warmth I didn’t see much wildlife but the park is home to the dartford warblers, nightjars and woodlarks. There were even signs warning of a woodlark nesting not far away from the visitor centre.
One more common species that I did see though was wood ants. Wood ants are an important part of a woodland ecosystem as they disperse seeds, stimulate the roots and shoots of trees to distribute nutrients and are a useful food source.
I saw several trails of ants and often the ants were carrying huge bits of material relative to their size. Eventually I found a nest which is a feat of insect architecture.
Initially it just looks like a pile of pine needles but when you look closer you can see it is swarming with ants. I’m not sure why there was a Pringles can in it but the ants didn’t seem to mind.
Here you can see some of the many holes which are entrances to the nest.There is just so much going on that you could see and watch a wood ant for ages.
For more information about Avon Heath you can visit their website here.

Wednesday, 27 July 2016

New Forest Wonders

On Sunday we went on a family walk at Cerne Abbas in Dorset. Unfortunately the weather wasn’t great so it wasn’t the best day for wildlife.
That’s not to say there was no wildlife around though. From the car park I could hear loud screeching which could have only come from a buzzard. Sure enough, I quickly spotted the culprit which was clearly one of this year’s chicks.
Not far from the famous Cerne Abbas Giant we spotted lots of yellowhammers giving alarm calls. Ironically my bird book says yellowhammers are “typical on warm, sunny days”.
As the title suggests though most of today’s content comes from the New Forest. It’s always delightful to head out of the town and into the forest but this is probably the best time of year to go.  The boggy areas are drier than usual, there’s still hardly anyone around during the week and the heather is looking fantastic.
My first spot was a fungus, a Common Earthball (Scleroderma citrinum).
Near one of the streams, as well as a herd of cows, were loads of dragonflies. I thought I saw two different species but it turns out they were male (blue) and female (yellow) Keeled Skimmers.
It has become traditional for every post to have a photo of a deer in it and today is no different! This one is perhaps the best yet though, a fallow deer stag.
I also spotted a young roe deer stag, although this one was a little further away:
There were lots of birds flitting around the gorse and I couldn’t quite work out what they were initially.
I think that was a juvenile, or at least a female. When I eventually spotted a male it became clear they were stonechats. It’s amazing how these birds can stand on the sharp gorse.
I also spotted a more unusual butterfly on the heathland, a brown argus :
As I came back into the town I finally managed to capture one of the many white butterflies in the area. These butterflies don’t seem to settle very often and I have been trying to photograph one for ages.
I really struggled to identify this as any one species but I eventually concluded it’s probably a Green Veined White. It certainly looks about the right colour and they are apparently highly-variable.
All in all, it was a fantastic day in the forest.

Saturday, 23 July 2016

Grasshoppers and Greenfinches

The temperature has reduced a little from earlier in the week but it’s still fairly warm, hovering between about 20 and 25 °C.
I have noticed that the birds are starting to be a bit less active. The majority have finished nesting and the earlier hatching juveniles are at the point where they are started to get their adult colours and are nearly able to fend for themselves.
Whilst these cygnets are still with their parents, they are nearly adult size and were feeding for themselves. This might well be the same swan family that I have featured here before given their location.
Whilst out by the river I tried to capture some photos of the swallows swooping over the water to catch insects. It is amazing to stand on a bridge and watch them shoot towards you. Sometime they fly really close to your head and other times they swoop low and go underneath the bridge. The best I managed to get was this:
This young blackbird was in the garden today, clearly now able to feed itself.
There are a few younger birds around though, like these baby goldfinches who were still waiting to be fed by their parents.
One final bird to share with you today, a robin sat on an old railway bridge:
I’ve seen lots of invertebrates over the last few days including yet another butterfly species- this is a Large Skipper.
I was walking along a street when I managed to spot this gorgeous Ghost Moth on a telephone pole. The name is perhaps appropriate seeing as though it was right outside the local cemetery.
I’ve seen lots of Cinnabar Moth caterpillars on ragwort this week. They are very distinctive and as ragwort often grows on the edge of paths they are really easy to spot. Ragwort is of course poisonous plant and therefore the caterpillars are poisonous too.
I haven’t featured a spider here for a few weeks now so here’s Tibellus oblongus. They don’t build webs and instead go and hunt their prey- it looks like this one was successful.
There’s a lot of grasshoppers chirping away in the long grass at the moment so I took it upon myself to get a photo of one. What with being tiny, hidden in long grass and able to fly that proved rather tricky but eventually I captured this one. It’s probably a Common Field Grasshopper.
Finally, here’s today’s obligatory deer photo:

Wednesday, 20 July 2016

Warm Wildlife

Summer has finally decided to put in an appearance this week. The temperature here yesterday was around 32° C and it’s been an uncomfortable few days and nights for us humans. The poor wildlife are stuck outdoors in it 24/7.
The Canada Geese haven’t been spending much time on the fields this week. With the majority of the goslings reaching near-adult size they are now spending most of their time on the lake, under the shade during the hotter parts of the day.
Meanwhile, the mammals are seeking the shade of the trees where possible. I saw this roe deer near the lake on Monday- I think they come down into the wooded areas of the New Forest to avoid the heat of the open heathland.
The oak trees near the lake are home to a fair few grey squirrels. They seem to be spending a lot of time on the ground at the moment, presumably avoiding the heat above. Being fairly rural squirrels these ones aren’t keen on people and hurtle up the trees as soon as you go near.
Life for smaller birds goes on largely as normal-you always need to eat after all. This is one of the Collared doves which frequents the garden and has learnt how to access one of the bird feeders.
It’s a precarious balancing act though and doesn’t always look so graceful:
The warmer weather is good news for some with the local butterflies starting to appear in some numbers. I’ve seen some of the usual suspects…
Meadow Brown
Red Admiral
…and some less common species.
Silver-Washed Fritllary 
Holly Blue
I have been keeping an eye on a nest which is in a box on the side of a telephone pole. Sadly when I walked past this evening I noticed a chick had obviously fallen from the nest and was squawking away.
I would have tried to put the chick back in the nest but given that it was some two metres above my head on a telephone pole it was impossible. The chick has no hope of surviving but I hope at least it will feed a hungry predator.
For me it was a reminder of the fragility of life in the wild. Rarely outside of TV do you get to follow individual animals, and even then you don’t see their demise. But in reality every thing you see is fighting for it’s very survival and often things go tragically wrong.
Well that was a melancholy ending wasn’t it? There’s good news though; I work in a school and have just finished for the summer holidays. That means I will have plenty more time over the next six weeks to get out into the wild so I hope to bring you lots of exciting things here in the coming weeks!