Friday, 31 December 2010

Haw haw haw! [er...ho]

Yet another new species for the garden today! We arrived back from having seen almost nothing on the reserve, and there were two Hawfinches perched high in the trees on the east side of the garden - result. Also today, the Brambling record was well and truly smashed - 42 feeding on the lawn.

Monday, 27 December 2010

Coldest yet

It was SOOOOO cold yesterday morning - maximum of -9 degrees. Ouch. The early thrushes actually had hoar frost visible on their tail feathers.

The big wildlife news was actually on the reserve today, however. Five successive bitterly cold nights at the Lapwing Hide (punctuated only by a temporary scare with a Goosander which showed some featrues of Common Merganser) finally did the business - not one but TWO Blashfrd ticks. The minor one was a redhead Red-breasted Merganser in with the very distant Goosanders on the only open bit of water in the middle of the lake. But the major one was a new species for the reserve - a superb LONG-EARED OWL flew in from the left, perched briefly on the post in front of the hide, and then vanished into the darkness! Below is the world's worst photo of any bird. Clearly, all the necessary ID features are there for you to enjoy.....

Saturday, 25 December 2010

Christmas at The Willows

Christmas Day, and we're just back from a long walk around Ibsley and Rockford Commons - bitterly cold and still lots of snow (and more ice) on the ground, though a thaw is promised early next week. The birds certainly need it - lots of evidence of struggle against the elements in the last few days, not least in the garden.

Yesterday there was an absolute feeding frenzy - the birds have really hit panic stations with the snow turning to ice in the last couple of days, especially the thrushes. Absolute minima in a concentrated 10 minute garden watch were: Reed Bunting 14, Fieldfare 7, Redwing 5, Song Thrush 9, Mistle Thrush 2, Blackbird 18 (5 thrush species in a binocular view not 10 feet from the window - roll on that Naumann's....!), Chaffinch 35, Brambling 15, Greenfinch 25, Goldfinch 4, Redpoll 2, Robin 6, Blue Tit 10, Great Tit 6, Coal Tit 1, Long-tailed Tit 4, Starling 8, Nuthatch 1, Great Spotted Pecker 1, Wren 2, Dunnock 3 (there's a shock...), Jay 1, Rook 2, Jackdaw 2, Moorhen 2, Pheasant 1, Collared Dove 2, Wood Pigeon 1, plus Buzzard, Grey Heron, Little Egret, Gadwall, Mallard and Goosander as flyovers - blinding birding with hot coffee and a mince pie. And higher counts still at other times for some of those species, notably Brambling (22), Fieldfare (18) and Redwing (11).

By night, we've had Tawny Owl and Fox, plus a surprise visit from a mystery long-haired black cat, which put our lot on panic stations! We've also been able to do some slightly more serious photography in the garden - see below....


Blue Tit



Reed Bunting

Male Chaffinch

Female Chaffinch

Male Brambling

Mistle Thrush, defending his Cotoneaster stockpile


Song Thrush

Male Blackbird

Female Blackbird

Grey Squirrel

Arch-nemesis of all the above.
Actually, Fionnbharr never catches any birds!

The reserve has also been exciting of late - 4 Waxwing, a hunting Goshawk, a Raven near the Mute Swan carcass, but of course far less open water so fewer wildfowl. Goosander now at "only" about 130 at dusk (only!), and rather fewer gulls, although a higher proportion of Common Gulls, as ever in cold weather here. Still lots of Yellow-legged Gulls (mainly adults), and a really good look at an adult Caspian three nights ago - followed by not one but TWO adults the next evening, all from the Lapwing hide. And while looking fruitlessly for the Bittern at Ivy North yesterday, we managed to get great views (and a rubbish photo) of the two Bearded Tits which have been present for a week or two now:

The female Beardie at Ivy Lake

Wednesday, 15 December 2010


Snails Lake

The back garden

"Our" newly resident ponies at sunset

Snails Lane in the snow

Well, it's been more or less Arctic for about three weeks now, and more icy air is promised before this weekend. We've effectively battened down the hatches on doing anything in the garden - we've even had to postpone our tree and hedging delivery until (hopefully) it's a bit warmer in the new year.

Feeding the birds has been as productive as last year, or possibly more so - already plenty of Bramblings, Reed Buntings and even some Redwings and Fieldfares right close to the house, plus the usual other garden species. And in the last day or two, Redpolls have started appearing - just ones and two as yet, but this very morning we saw flocks of 72 and 50 within a mile or so of the house, so they're definitely increasing!

We're also keeping an eye open for a Great Grey Shrike which Bob Chapman saw flying onto the reserve from this direction yesterday! On the reserve itself, the numbers of wildfowl have been great, with over 200 Goosanders, over 1000 Gadwall, 100s of Greylags, carrying 5 White-fronts and a small race (possibly Dusky) Canada Goose, and even a redhead Smew for one day only - see here for full details! And a second-winter Iceland Gull a couple of weeks back in the evening roost was good - along with plenty of Yellow-legged Gulls every evening, and occasional sightings of the Caspian Gull, too. On the moth front, activity has ground (inevitably) almost to a complete halt, although a trap run on a fractionally milder night a few days ago did (predictably) collect December Moth (or, better, Eggar) and Dusky Thorn.

December Moth - a stunner! Note the festive berries....very artistic

Friday, 29 October 2010

Half-term, and the year is winding down

Like it says in the headline, the nights are drawing in, and the chill of autumn is definitely in the air. We've done a fair bit more digging and garden planning (and spending money on trees!), and the pond is very nearly full up.

Moth traps are producing very low catches now, of course, but we've had some quality - Red-line Quaker, November Moth and Large Wainscot being special highlights. Birdwise, the tits and finches are starting to make more use of the food we're putting out, and a substantial Starling roost at Ivy Lake (estimated at about 6000 birds) means we're getting spectacular evening shows overhead and to the north. The Bearded Tit (a Blashford mega!) Simon saw at Ivy Lake has yet to make it as far as our (roughly) ten stems of Phragmites in the poorly drained patch in the Lower Field, however......

Sunday, 10 October 2010

Too long between posts....

Nearly a month has passed, and it's not like nothing has happened! Getting lazy....

Several good moth traps have added some new species to the garden list, such as Black Rustic, Blair's Shoulder Knot, Chestnut, Beaded Chestnut, Brown-spot Pinion etc., but birds have been distinctly quiet of late.

Black Rustic

Blair's Shoulder Knot - best cured by Miliband's Erotic Massage


Beaded Chestnut

Further afield, and excellent 'viz-mig' session at Hengistbury this morning turned up 7 Ring Ouzels, a Yellowhammer, a Brambling, 1000s of alba Wags, Linnets, Goldfinches and hirundines, and a good few Siskins and Chaffinches, all east.

Garden-wise, the pond is rapidly filling, thanks to the excess black EPDM liner adding to the catchment area, and various bits of willow screening are making things feel a lot more enclosed. Shrubs and so on are going in apace - major garden photographic update to follow, methinks!

Sunday, 12 September 2010

Simon's life "begins" and moths get autumnal

September 11th is a big day for Simon, but 11/9/10 was a particularly big one - 40! Duly celebrated with a Hampshire first at dawn in Gosport (an excellent female Daurian Shrike), and more traditionally with a slap up lunch and an amazing Julia-made carrot cake, and followed up with a beautiful walk in Redshoot Wood, complete with Ceps and Shaggy Inkcaps, which got eaten for tea! Yum....

A Green Sandpiper over the garden was the "megafauna" highlight, but some good moth traps in recent days have turned up lots of new species for the garden, and several lifers for us both:

Dusky Thorn

The Sallow

Red Underwing

Frosted Orange

Oak Lutestring

Feathered Gothic

Centre-barred Sallow

Bulrush Wainscot

Autumnal Rustic

Sunday, 5 September 2010

More rendered unto Caesar (thanks for that, Dad....)

Rendering now complete! Simon also repaired the coping (more Y-chromosome DIY talk there) on the patio wall, and repointed (see?) the brickwork where necessary. Actually not that hard...I mean, very manly and difficult work. Thompson's Waterseal applied Sunday morning ready for masonry paint whenever.

Simon coping rather well

Biodiversity - moth sugaring attempted on the field fenceposts last night for the first time - lots of moths just an hour after dark, none of them new or very spectacular, but at least a proof of principle! Also some delicious Parasol mushrooms picked and cooked from near Rockford Lake. Yum. Let's hope they were Parasols, and I'm still here to blog tomorrow....

Postscript - see this page to see what the Parasols looked like. Just don't tell Bob I ate some of them.....

Thursday, 2 September 2010

Another garden tick "rendered"

The autumn continues to turn up new birds - a Green Sandpiper overhead, and both Yellow and Grey Wagtails likewise - odd we hadn't had one of the latter before, really. Also a Pygmy Shrew rescued from the jaws of death - well, Elli the Cat.

On the DIY front, manliness is to the fore, as Simon has been stripping exterior paint and even doing a spot of re-rendering and pebbledashing. Grrrrr!

Tuesday, 31 August 2010

Julia is cursed....official

Well, what a difference a day makes. While geting the moth trap in, what flew north over the garden? Yup - the Osprey! And where was Julia? On a fitness run / Pied Fly hunt....oh dear.

Monday, 30 August 2010

A near miss....

After several days of dipping, Simon finally caught up with the intermittently present Osprey over the visitor centre this afternoon - and as the bird headed high south, it was unlucky that Julia couldn't add it to the garden list too!

Another good bird today - a Pied Flycatcher on Rockford Common enlivened a dusk run for Simon!

More exciting still, we made a trip to Macpenny's Nursery in Bransgore, which is BRILLIANT. Stacks of unusual plants in a very attractive setting, and we cracked, buying ourselves a fastigiate Oak, Acca sellowiana (Pineapple Guava), Arbutus unedo (Strawberry Tree), Sambucus nigra (Black Elder) and a few other herbaceous plants.

Saturday, 28 August 2010

Rodents and other savage beasts in the garden

Well, a major garden tick during Amber and Tim's visit - a Brown Rat!

More interestingly, a quick twitch to Rockford yesterday secured 4 Black Terns (1 adult, 3 juvs), coming hard on the heels of a refreshingly wet wade through Vales Moor in the Forest - while we didn't find the main target species (Drosera anglica), we did see lots of Large Marsh Grasshoppers, and succeeded in finding (and moreover identifying!) a single Heath Grasshopper on Castle Hill nearby. Two of the rarest British grasshoppers, in totally different habitats, within 200m of each other - only in the New Forest. Also Keeled Skimmer, Small Red Damselfly and a very welcome family party of Dartford Warblers.

Heath Grasshopper (Chorthippus vagans) - a rare denizen of dry heaths in the southern New Forest and on the Dorset heaths. Easily (not) identified by a combination of features, including the black wedges on the rear of the pronotum reaching the rear edge, and especially the small but distinct costal bulge on the leading edge of the forewing.

Simon tries to negotiate Vales Moor bog - and fails. The wellies are wet....

Some airborne accompaniment to Orthoptera hunting

On the DIY front, Julia has planted up the right hand bed by the drive, and Simon has been presure-blasting the side of the house to get the blown masonry paint off. And was attacked by a vile wild animal! A Wasp sting right under your eyelid is no fun at all.....

Wednesday, 25 August 2010

More visitors - human and animal

Still more very welcome guests of late - Guy and Carolyn dropped by on Saturday for a spot of coffee and digger fun - 1.5 tonnes of JCB mega action was had this weekend, as we excavated the pond, the veg beds, and stripped the turf from both hedge lines and the woodland glade ready for autumn/winter planting! Creative destruction.....


Two pallet-built wildlife towers are also installed in the woodland glade, and our long-potted Camellias and a new Rowan are in the ground.

More alpha-male nonsense in the garden

Also here on Monday were Oscar and Eric, en route to Portsmouth and the Bilbao ferry - and they even managed to bring Pete and his partner Maggie along too. We all enjoyed some time in the field on the HWT reserve, and up on the Forest too. And a vast cod and chips lunch at the Redshoot Inn....

Finally, Emily came round too, with young Benedict (just two - Fionnbharr behaved beautifully with him, but less so the other two!), and we all ate too much (again).

Somewhere within this social whirlwind (more to come in the next few days!) we've had time to catch some moths (new ones included Red Underwing, Svensson's Copper Underwing, Birch Mocha, Orange Swift and Canary-shouldered Thorn), see some birds (first Reed Bunting and Meadow Pipit of the autumn in the garden, Dunlin and migrant LRP on the reserve) and even do some botanizing. But the end of the holiday is looming.....

Red Underwing

Birch Mocha

Saturday, 14 August 2010

Autumn migration underway

Another visit from the Tawny Owl last night, as well as a very lean-looking young Fox. And a new garden bird today - a migrant Tree Pipit, picked up on call, and then seen perched in one of the Birch trees. Excellent!

Meanwhile, on the lakes, still two Green Sandpipers present, and the family of Egyptian Geese (six youngsters) has moved to Rockford Lake.

Thursday, 12 August 2010

All go - and lots of visitations

We're now firmly ensconced - which meant that, until today, we had no internet access, so no postings to the blog! But now we're back in the .... er .... 21st century. We've had lots of social visits this week - Teresa and her niece Sian for a couple of nights while they did their sailing course on Spinnaker Lake, Mum, Dad, Mark, Maddie and Jamie for a lunch at the Alice Lisle (poor fish and chips, unfortunately....), Julian, Kate, Felix and Cordelia for a big fish supper (much better), Ian for a lunch in the middle of his mega exercise walk in the Forest, and most recently, Simon, Clare, Sophie, Emily and James on their way home from a week's camping in Dorset. Add to this a meal with John and Sandy over the road last night, and it's been a whirlwind of food and sociability - most unlike us, and quite tiring, but excellent to welcome so many good friends to our little Forest home.

Teresa and Sian visit - our first "proper" guests!

On the practical front, small details have been tweaked (nearly got all the curtain poles up again, having resited them, and Julia is under way with the curtains themselves), and a couple of larger projects have started - e.g. digging some flower beds out the back! And the digger is now booked for ten days time....

Undoubted wildlife highlight was a Tawny Owl repeatedly dropping down onto the floodlit lawn a few nights ago, presumably after worms. Also lots of baby birds about, the Nuthatches again regular at the bird table, and further afield three Green Sands on Rockford Lake, Yellow-legged Gull and Gyppos on Ibsley Water, Grayling just over the Dorset border, and Merlin (in August!), Crossbill and Dartford Warbler up near Milkham in the Forest. We're doing lots of bike rides, walks and so on - and in Simon's case, some of it at 0500, when he's waking up too excited to drop off again!

Perhaps MOST importantly, we have now been joined by three furry felines, who started off pretty terrified, but are now getting used to the idea of a new home in the country - we think! Fionnbharr has already met his new vet, having got himself into a fight and acquiring a nasty bite abcess the night before he got moved (typical!), and the good news is that, so far, hostilities have been suspended between Elli and Cordelia - how long will that last?

Elli and Fionnbharr - still locked in!