Sunday, 30 April 2017

Fluffy Fledglings

As expected, the peregrine falcon eggs in the Bournemouth nest started to hatch this week. The first came in the early hours of the 24th April and the second came later the same day. You can see the second chick hatching with the first chick behind the adult in this still.
24.4 2 chicks JPG
The third chick hatched two days later, on 26th April. At the time of writing it appears that the fourth egg has yet to hatch- last year the fourth egg of the clutch didn’t hatch at all and given the long gap it seems unlikely it will now. I’ve been keeping an eye on the nest and if you watch the webcam in the morning’s you can often see the adults arrive for a feed.
The three chicks are huddled together here as the adult hands them pieces of a huge kill. Mostly they are being fed pigeons which is hardly surprising in an urban area but this feed looks really like a lump of meat! Remember, you can watch the nest webcam online here and I’ll be keeping up with the chicks’ progress over the next few weeks.
More baby birds have appeared on my patch this week including this fluffy thing:
It’s hard to identify from that shot alone but this is in fact one of a clutch of canada geese goslings. I spotted this family on the edge of the fishing lake with four very young babies.
These are the only young canada geese I’ve seen so far but soon there will be quite a few and they will be collected together into a sort of nursery. Over on the nursery field some greylag geese have already arrived with their very small goslings. 
You can just make out four goslings in this image. The greylags seem less confident than the canada geese and always stick to the far side of the nursery field. Incidentally, here’s a very clear shot of a different greylag on the fishing lake.
Greylags are thought to be the ancestor of all domestic geese, though generations of breeding mean their domestic counterparts now look quite different.
I’ve got one more baby bird for you today, a young blackbird.
There are several ways to know if you’ve seen a young bird. Generally their feathers are fluffier than in adult birds, particularly on the underside. They often still have the yellow part at the side of the beak which the parents can’t help but pass food towards. You can also often tell from their behaviour- they are often less jumpy than adult birds and might allow you to approach quite closely. It means you can get clear photos like this one but I always make sure never to disturb the birds too much.
I’ve got good views of a few birds out looking for food this week- they too may have young they need to feed. Here’s a grey heron, perhaps the same one I saw catching a rat a few weeks ago.
Only metres away I spotted the kestrel that is often hovering for food over these fields next to the river Avon and for once I managed to get a photo of it.
I am always amazed at how these birds of prey can hover so well, keeping their head absolutely still whilst their wings flap so quickly.
Finally, here’s a bird I talked about a little over the winter but now in it’s magnificent summer plumage, a black-tailed godwit.
Black-tailed godwits are mainly winter visitors but I think this may be an unusual resident bird. There’s a fairly sizeable population over at Lymington-Keyhaven so it’s possible some birds breed here rather than migrate, especially with the mild winter we had this year.
That’s all for today so I shall see you in May!

Saturday, 22 April 2017

Baby Birds

I’ve been eagerly awaiting the first young birds of 2017 and this week I finally saw some. Get ready for the cuteness!
My first young birds of the year were two of these gorgeous lapwing chicks.
There are currently a mother and two chicks right outside one of the hides at Blashford Lakes. This one chick came right up to the edge of the hide allowing for unprecedented views and photos! As well as agricultural land lapwings nest in areas of wetland with short vegetation. The team at Blashford have been working to create this sort of habitat and it certainly appears to be working.
Lapwings are on the RSPB’s red list, meaning there has been a severe decline of numbers in the UK, so work like this is vital to support the species.
This morning I spotted this mallard parading with her ducklings.
If I’ve counted correctly there are 15 ducklings there. Mallards usually have clutches of 8-12 eggs so this was a particularly large one. Of course ducklings are extremely vulnerable to predators so it’s unlikely that more than a handful of these will make it to adulthood.
In other bird news, blackcaps have now arrived in the country in time for the breeding season.
These birds migrate from Southern Europe and Northern Africa to breed in the UK in the summer. However, increasing numbers are actually staying in the UK over the winter and the RSPB suspects this is due to the good source of food put out in gardens.
Today I saw a grey wagtail on the river Avon.
This individual is a female as it has more white on it’s head then a male would. Whilst these birds don’t migrate a such they do move from lowland streams in the winter to fast flowing rivers in the summer.
Whilst at Blashford Lakes yesterday I saw thousands of these sizeable St Mark’s Flies (Bibio marci).
Their name comes from the fact that they usually emerge around the 25th April which is St. Mark’s Day.  Their long legs dangle underneath them as they hover and look around for females. They will only be in flight for about a week but they are important pollinators as they feed on nectar.
Another insect sighting this week was this harlequin ladybird.
Harlequins are an invasive species and frankly they appear to be have completed their invasion around here. It’s been a good few years since I last saw a native British ladybird around my patch but I see a lot of harlequins now. They eat other ladybirds and pass diseases to them. They have now colonised most of England and are quickly spreading into Wales and Scotland.
That’s all for today but I’ll see you next week when hopefully some peregrine eggs may have hatched!

Saturday, 15 April 2017

Birds on the Heath

It’s been a mostly sunny week here once again meaning I’ve had ample opportunity for getting outside. It was announced this week that 2016 was a really poor year for butterflies but thankfully, from my perspective anyway, 2017 appears to be much better so far. I’ve seen plenty of our more common local species like peacocks, speckled woods and commas.
This week several other species of butterfly have emerged in reasonable numbers such as holly blues and orange tips, as seen below.
This may have been difficult to identify as an orange tip if I hadn’t seen it land! The underside of their wings is very different to the clear top and serves as camouflage when the butterfly sits on flowerheads like cow parsley. This individual is a male as females do not have the orange wing tips.
Another strong sign of spring is of course the swallows returning and this week I have suddenly seen a whole load on my patch. Situated near the South coast, it’s likely many of the swallows I am seeing are headed further North and have yet to complete their long migration from Africa.
This week I visited Canford Heath in Poole which is the largest lowland heath in the UK and an SSSI thanks to the rare reptiles it is home to, like smooth snakes and sand lizards. Sadly it was a cool morning on my visit so I didn’t see any reptiles.
I had much better luck with birds though. Canford Heath is also home to a population of dartford warblers and there were plenty around during my visit. Although the name comes from the location they were first identified the ‘dart’ part of it seems apt as these birds spend a lot of time darting around the heather. Try as I might I could not get a photo of one.
Still, I did stumble upon this linnet on the heath and just about managed to get a photo of it.
This is probably a female as there doesn’t seem to me much red on it. The numbers of this finch have fallen a dreadful 57% since 1970 probably due to a decrease in seed and an increase of the use of herbicides on farmland.
Another spot was this wheatear, a bird which also migrates from Africa for the summer breeding season.
Amusingly the name wheatear derives from “white” and “arse”, referring to the prominent white rump of the bird. They are mainly ground-dwelling birds and mostly eat insects.
One more bird from my Canford Heath visit was this jay, a more common bird but also a beautiful one to see.
Down by the river Avon this week I came across this plant which was covered in insects.
I put it up on iSpot, which is a great website where community users can often identify species you might now recognise instantly. The general census seems to be that this aren’t true flies (diptheria) due to the long antenna. They are probably alderflies (meglapteraas they are insects that live near rivers. I can’t come up with a convincing reason for them to be swarming like this though- maybe it’s just a good food source?
That’s all for today and I hope you have a good Easter.

Sunday, 9 April 2017

Spring Sunshine

It’s been a glorious Spring week here. The temperatures are creeping over 20°C but there is still a pleasant breeze meaning it’s ideal for getting out and watching wildlife. I haven’t seen any clouds for days- here’s a blue tit to show off the blue sky.
And another bird surrounded by blue sky is my local great spotted woodpecker.
I’ve seen and heard woodpeckers a lot in this small patch of trees over the last few weeks. It’s the time of year of their drumming display. Both sexes drum at trees as a way of making first contact with potential mates. An unpaired male can drum as many as 600 times a day! Interestingly these woodpeckers have a gender equal society with both sexes drumming, excavating a nest, incubating eggs and looking after young after fledging.
This week has seen a dramatic increase in the numbers of butterflies around. I’ve so far seen brimstones, peacocks, large whites, orange tips, red admirals and speckled woods.
It’s amazing what a difference a week can make- last weekend there were no speckled woods to be found whereas this weekend they seem to be everywhere. These butterflies have interesting mating behaviour. Male speckled woods either find a sunny spot and defend it from other males, waiting for a female to come along or patrol the forest actively looking for females. The females are monandrous, meaning they only mate once in their lifetime, and have to make the decision to mate with either a defender or a patroller.
Today I ventured up into the New Forest where I was treated with some magnificent views.
I mainly hoped to see some reptiles and eventually I got lucky and found this slow worm.
I thought at the time that this was a particularly long individual. In hindsight I should have placed an item near it for scale. These legless lizards are supposed to grow up to 50cm long but I am convinced this one was longer.
It’s frustratingly impossible to know quite how long it was but it’s clear this was a particularly long individual. It was calm and basking in the sun to warm up and was happy for me to have a close look at it.
There were lots of birds hopping around on the gorse and under the heather and eventually I managed to get a good look at one and discover they were meadow pipits.
Meadow pipits are the main host bird for cuckoos in the New Forest. Interestingly I heard a cuckoo calling today which seems remarkably early. I’ve been keeping an eye on the BTO tagged Cuckoos (see here) and Selborne, who was tagged in Hampshire, is only in the North of Spain whilst all the others are still South of the Sahara! That all suggests that the cuckoo I heard today is a really early arrival and likely hasn’t been in the forest for more than a few days.
I was saddened to learn this week of the extreme plight of New Forest curlews. Over the last 12 years the numbers of Forest curlews have fallen by two-thirds, from about 100 breeding pairs in 2004 to just 40 in 2016. At this rate they could become extinct in Southern England in as little as twenty years (Full story).
The main reason being attributed to this decline is nest disturbance. Curlews are ground-nesting birds and it’s likely that nests are being disturbed by runners, walkers and dogs who are not keeping to the main tracks. People seem to think they have a right to go anywhere on the Forest and this is the impact of it.
Anyway, let’s hope the good weather continues into this week and I’ll see you again soon for more.