Sunday, 14 January 2018

Monarch of the Building Site

Hello and welcome to a rebranded blog. As you will no doubt have noticed if you are a regular reader, the blog is now called Ringwood Wildlife Diary and there's a new header too. In terms of content though it will be business as usual.

It's been interesting over the last few months to see how the roe deer are adapting to the building site on the field they used to graze in. The builders piled up the soil from the groundworks into a big mound which became covered in greenery. The deer seemed had discovered a new place to feed.

It's not just the deer that seem to like the mound- I've regularly seen the local buzzards on it. 

The mound provides a vantage point over the surrounding fields that didn't exist before and so the buzzards have taken advantage of it. Since Christmas more work has been done and fresh soil has been added to the mound- since then I've not seen any wildlife making use of it. 

Over on the River Avon I got a really close look at a pair of goosander

A woman saw me taking photos of them and asked me what they were and I was able to explain about them being winter visitors. It was really lovely to be able to share my knowledge with someone. 

It's proving to be a good spot for birds at the moment. I once again saw a grey heron with a rat in its beak in the same spot too. 

It still feels odd to see a bird we know for fishing to eat rats but they are opportunistic hunters. Because they can stand so still the rats don't notice they are there until it is too late. It was interesting to see that this heron had flown to the edge of the river with the rat. A second after this photo it dipped the rat in the water, lifted it up to swallow it and then bent down to take another gulp of water. I'm assuming it did this in order to make the rat easier to swallow. Compared to a slimy fish, a furry rat will not slide down the throat so easily- presumably making it wet makes it easier. 

All members of the heron family will do this and it was interesting to spot two great white egrets in the distance. 

I've never seen these birds on the area I consider my patch so it was a lovely spot. There is a fair amount of water on the floodplains at the moment and the egrets were making use of it- I wonder if they too were hunting for rats in an area where there is clearly a good number of them. 

Another winter visitor I've seen recently was this redwing, my first of the winter (clearly I've not been going to the right places). 

This redwing will have migrated from Russia or Scandinavia, arriving in the UK around October(1). It's a five hundred mile flight across the North Sea and in rough weather many come crashing down on the waves and drown. In the Autumn they spend their time in hedges and orchards feeding on fruit but as that food source runs out they move to fields to dig for earthworms. Clearly that's what this individual was doing as it has a very muddy beak. 

It may not be the height of the fungi season but I've spotted a couple of interesting species recently. This is a yellow stagshorn fungus(2). 

This species always grows on rotting wood- here it was on some wood used for steps on a footpath. Apparently it's not poisonous but is not worth eating as it's rubbery and tasteless(3).

Then there's this species which I think is an oyster mushroom

Oyster mushrooms are highly variable(4) which makes a positive identification tricky- I'm sure this is at least of the Pleurotus genus. Incredibly this is a carnivorous mushroom- it traps and ingests nematode worms which provide it with nitrogen and other chemicals(5). Oyster mushrooms are highly popular for eating and are regularly found for sale in supermarkets. 

That's all for today and I shall see you next week.

2: Sterry, P and Hughes, B. (2009) Collins Complete Guide to British Mushrooms and Toadstools. Collins pp.248
4: Sterry, P and Hughes, B. (2009) Collins Complete Guide to British Mushrooms and Toadstools. Collins pp.222

Wednesday, 10 January 2018


Yesterday I was lucky enough to attend a special screening of a film called Jane, a documentary about Jane Goodall who was there in person for a question and answer session. The screening was in Bournemouth, which was where Jane grew up.

The film focuses on the early years of Jane's career and uses footage filmed by her then husband Hugo van Lawick with narration mostly from a new interview with her. Lawick was clearly very talented and thus the footage is stunning- it's also been beautifully colorised for the film so that it looks like it was filmed within the last few years.

It partly looks at Jane's chimpanzee study and how she came to make discoveries and build her relationship with the tribe. No-one had studied chimpanzees this closely before and Jane's discoveries transformed our knowledge of them. Her early methods may not stand up to modern scientific standards but without the early footage she would not have received funding to go on and discover so much more.

The film also looks at Jane's personal life and the difficult balance between her work and family. There was an interesting conflict between the two and it was also interesting to see how she looked to the chimps for inspiration. Her marriage with Hugo is discussed in depth and how they drifted apart once his National Geographic funding to film Jane and the chimpanzees ended.

I liked everything about the film. It was wonderfully put together with sounded gorgeous with the natural sounds of Tanzania and a great soundtrack by Philip Glass. I especially liked that it was narrated by Jane and so it felt like her real view of things rather than an agenda decided upon by the documentary makers.

The Q and A was great too- at 83 Jane is still so warm and passionate. She talked a lot about her legacy and the vast education program around the world she set up. She also spoke about how every person can make a difference in helping the environment in small ways and how they can build up to something so much bigger.

Perhaps the part that really stuck with me is when Jane was asked how optimistic about the future she is. She said that there's hope for the future of wildlife if we change attitudes and that it's easiest to work with young people to do this. She continued to say that she is optimistic about nature's resilience, the indomitable human spirit and our amazing brains but if we continue business as usual it will be too late.

Jane Goodall is an amazing and inspirational woman and it was a privilege to listen to her speak.

Picture Source: DogWoof on Twitter

Saturday, 6 January 2018

A Great Gull

Last week I took the scope I was given for Christmas to my local nature reserve Blashford Lakes. The reserve is always a great place to visit but having the scope meant I was able to see much further than before across the sizeable lakes.

Thanks to the scope (and a nice man in the hide who pointed it out) I was able to see a bird I hadn't seen before, a ring-billed gull

Photo from Blashford Lakes Blog(1)
Ring-billed gulls come from North America and locals will be used to seeing these gulls in car parks where they apparently congregate in large numbers(2). They do this because they can easily see any approaching predators and there's plenty of food around in the form of rubbish humans have left behind(3).

Ring-billed gulls are rare but regular visitors to the UK. There are only a handful that winter across the UK but those that come are seen year after year- this is at least the third winter that this individual has spent at Blashford. 

The scope also allowed me to clearly identify what I was seeing- for example I was able to see that rather than the tufted duck it looked like initially, the bird in the foreground here is a scaup

Like many of our winter visitors, scaup breed in Siberia and Northern Europe before moving south to avoid the freezing weather. They are diving ducks meaning they dive underwater to catch food, which most consists of shellfish, crustacea and small insects(4).

Another duck I saw, and in good numbers too, were gadwalls

These birds are dabbling ducks which means they stick their heads under the water to find plants like algae and grasses to feed on(5). They therefore need shallower water to feed in and this is why they came relatively close to the hide. It's odd that compared with the bright colours of the male of most other species of duck that these birds are so understated. 

My other spot of note was a green sandpiper on the shore of one of the lakes. 

These waders work around muddy edges of lakes and ponds where they find small invertebrates. They breed in subarctic Europe but where they breed is unexpected- unlike nearly every other wader these birds nest in old nests belonging to species like fieldfares up trees! 

This time last year I was regularly seeing a green sandpiper on the River Avon- the river level remained fairly low throughout the winter. This year though we've had a very wet winter and the river levels are significantly higher. 

River Avon December 2017
Green Sandpiper on the River Avon, December 2016
As you can see, the sandpiper was feeding on parts of the river bed that were exposed whereas this winter even most of the plants have been submerged. According to the Met Office, locally we had about 50% of the average expected rainfall for December in 2017(6) whereas in December 2016 it was just over 20%(7). 

The scientist in me finds this information fascinating. Last winter was clearly unusually dry which meant the green sandpiper had a place to feed it would never normally have. Even 2017 seems fairly dry though the data only goes to the 27th of December and the remaining four days were extremely wet here- I estimate the figure to be closer to 70%.

According to the Met Office, 2017 was the fifth warmest year in the UK since records began in 1910(6). Scarily, the nine warmest years since 1910 have occured since 2000. Whilst the weather may change it's so clear that climate change is happening and the data shows it is happening alarmingly quickly. 

That's all from me today but I just want to direct you to my new Facebook page- if you're on Facebook give it a like for all the latest blog updates as well as local news stories and extra photos.

Wednesday, 3 January 2018


For Christmas our family was given the adoption of a baby elephant as a present. Malima is looked after by the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust (DSWT) in Kenya. This is Malima's story.

On the 30th October 2016 the DSWT received a call about a collapsed elephant calf. When they arrived they found a young elephant lying on a mound of Earth who was totally unresponsive and would have likely died very quickly without help.

The area was suffering from a drought and there was no food anywhere close to water. It's likely that her mother abandoned her either the night before or that morning. Elephants have close familial bonds so this cannot have been an easy decision. The choice was either for the family to leave Malima to die or risk none of them making it to find food and water.

In many ways Malima was very lucky. For a start there were a pride of lions near where she was found but they were busy feeding on an oryx. Without human intervention she would have certainly died and it took two rounds of IV fluids to ensure she kept going. She was very close to death and it took a week before the trust knew she would survive.

The name Malima is Swahili for "mound" which of course is where she was found. She is now a happy member of the nursery herd at the trust.

Here's a video from DSWT which tells the story of the gorgeous baby elephant.

Since it's foundation in 1977 the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust have hand-raised over 150 infant elephants as well as infant black rhinos. They also do a range of conservation work to help these animals in the wild and release as many young animals as they can. 

African elephants are in big trouble. In the 20th century there were between 3 and 5 million African elephants but now there only about 415,000. This is largely down to the growing demand for ivory, especially in Asia. These magnificent animals are killed for their tusks- many of the orphans that are at DSWT lost their mothers in the ivory trade. It's been illegal to sell ivory (outside of antiques) since 1990 yet this has not stopped poaching at all. 

Poaching isn't the only threat either. They are losing habitat at an alarming rate- their range shrunk from 3 million square miles in 1979 to less than one million in 2007. In continues to shrink as logging, mining and biofuel plantations take away the land they've roamed for thousands of years. There is also increasing conflict between elephants and humans as the human population increases. 

Of course they are also affected by climate change. It's not an easy life for any animal that lives in the tropics but increased temperatures and lower rainfall mean droughts are becoming more regular. Elephants like Malima are sadly becoming more and more common. 

As well as being magnificent, emotionally complex creatures they are vital for the habitat. It's estimated that up to 30 species of tree require elephants for dispersal and germination. Elephants shape their habitat, having an impact on factors like fresh water and forest cover. There are even invertebrates who rely solely on the elephants for survival, using their dung or their footprints to as their own micro-habitats. 

The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust does incredible work so do give whatever support you can. 


Saturday, 30 December 2017


It's time for my review of the year! At the end of the year I like to have a look back on the best wildlife I saw. But first, the stats! Here are number of animals etc that I have written about on this blog. These are all things I saw with my own eyes, could positively ID and managed to get a photo of. 

Invertebrates: 81
Birds: 73
Plants: 21
Fungi: 6
Mammals: 6
Fish: 2
Reptiles: 1

I think that's pretty good going. The birds total is exactly the same as 2016, though the species are quite different. It was a great year for invertebrates and not so great a year for fungi and the stats reflect this. Let's move on to my highlights then!

The Ringwood Waxwing

Last winter saw an irruption of waxwings from Northern Europe here in the UK. I made several attempts to track a flock down but I kept missing them. Finally one turned up in a car park in my hometown and I saw my first waxwing. What a bird!

The Hungry Heron

Sometimes it's the behaviour rather than the species which really surprises you. Back in February I saw a grey heron catch and eat a rat in the fields next to the River Avon. Whilst I was aware that herons eat more than fish it was still a very rare thing to see. 

Tremendous Tawny

The last thing I expected when walking up a country lane in the middle of the day was to see a tawny owl roosting on someone's car. I hear tawny owls all the time at night but to see one so clearly in the daytime was an incredible experience. 

Beautiful Butterflies

It seemed to be a good year for butterflies recently. I managed to spot a total of twenty different species this year which I was pleased with and so many of them were stunning. 

Painted Lady (July, Longham Lakes)
Brimstone (July, New Forest)
Peacock (September, RSPB Lodmoor)
Small Copper (October, Fordingbridge)
My Deer

It's been great to follow the local herd of roe deer this year. I've seen them change coats as the season's progress and even have fawns. More than any other wild animals these are the ones I feel next as I've seen the same individuals time and time again. 

Buck (March)
Fawns (July)
Doe (November)
Charming Chicks

It's always lovely to see baby birds but few are as cute as the lapwing chicks I saw at Blashford Lakes in April. They were really close to the hide meaning I had a stunning view of them. 

And that's it for 2017. It's been a great year for wildlife and I look forward to more in 2018. Thanks so much for reading this blog and for all your messages about it. Happy New Year!

Sunday, 24 December 2017

Super Shovelers

It's been a fairly mild week which means our winter visitors are likely happy with their choice to spend the season in the UK. This week I paid a visit to Blashford Lakes which is probably at its busiest time of the year in terms of bird life.

I was lucky to get very close to one of the trees cormorants like to perch in and this resulted in a photo I'm really pleased with.

The UK has an internationally important wintering population of these birds, some 41,000 birds1.Unlike other birds they are not too particular about their habitat and will happily go to freshwater lakes like at Blashford, estuaries or the coast- anywhere with a good supply of fish is OK with them. 

I also saw a few of what is becoming my favorite waterfowl, shovelers

These birds are so odd-looking. Females look much like female mallard only with an enormous bill whereas males have a beautiful green head. They use their remarkable bill to forage for aquatic invertebrates2. The bill has 'lamellae' on the edge which are comb-like structures that act as sieves- this allows the birds to skim invertebrates from the water's surface. This adaptation means they don't have to compete with food resources with other ducks. 

Again the UK is an important place for these birds as 20% of North West Europe's population call it home3

Another spot was this lovely little grebe

Little Grebes are superb swimmers and pursue fish and invertebrates underwater up to a depth of one metre4. They are buoyant due to not having a tail and reappear from dives like a cork. Like other grebes though they are not good at walking and nest right at the water's edge for this reason. 

It's not all waterfowl at Blashford of course- I also spotted this green woodpecker

This bird was almost certainly feeding on ants here, which take up the vast majority of their diet5. It probes it's long beak into the ground and licks up ants and their larvae. Their tongues are long, about 10cm- so long in fact that they have to wrap around the skull in order to fit in the head6!

Moving elsewhere, I spotted a pair of goosander when I was walking past the River Avon this week. 

These birds use their long serrated bills to catch fish- they especially like trout and salmon7. They also have been known to eat virtually any other aquatic creatures they can find from molluscs, crustaceans, insect larvae and amphibians to small mammals and birds on occasion8

When walking in the New Forest this week, I came across a sizeable herd of fallow deer which included one white individual. 

Normally fallow deer are light brown and spotty but they coat does darken in the winter. Even so, you would normally expect to see pale spots on these deer but this does vary between populations. It's only the distinctive tails that tell me these are definitely fallow deer. 

You might imagine the white deer to be an albino but actually white is fairly common in deer as it's simply natural variation9. I suppose it's similar to humans having ginger hair in that it's a less common variation but a still a relatively high proportion of individuals have it.

That's all for today but I hope you have a good Christmas and I'll be back next week with my end of year round-up.

4: BirdsUc: Little Grebe
5: RSPB: Green Woodpecker
6: Robinson, R.A. "Green Woodpecker" BirdFacts. BTO
7: RSPB: Goosander
8: del Hoyo, J. Elliott, A, Sargatal, J (eds) (1992) Handbook of the Birds of the World Vol 1. Barcelona: Lynx Edicions. pp. 626
9: BDS: Fallow Deer

Monday, 18 December 2017

Winter Wonders

Yesterday I visited one of my favorite nature reserves, Lymington-Keyhaven. The reserve comes alive at this time of year as visitors arrive to enjoy our relatively mild winters.

It didn't take long at all until I spotted the first wigeon of the day.

Though small numbers of wigeon do breed in the UK (in Scotland and the North of England), all the wigeon around here are winter visitors from Russia, Scandinavia and Iceland1. The key identifying feature of wigeon are there bright yellow forehead, though this is only the case in males- females of most of our duck species look very similar. 

Also on the reserve were a flock of brent geese- whilst I have seen these birds at the reserve before, yesterday's visit was the closest I've seen them to the footpath on top of the sea wall. 

These brent geese come from a long way North, the Taymyr peninsula on the Arctic coast of Siberia. They fly some 5000 kilometres to reach us, cutting over Finland and going around the southern shore of the Baltic Sea on their journey2. They spend the winter feeding on eelgrass and on crops in nearby fields3. There are several subspecies of brent geese- these are dark-bellied. Scientists are divided upon whether these subspecies are genetically different enough to be identified as separate species altogether- at the the moment they remain one species. 

One further migratory bird I spotted was this greenshank

I'm lucky to live in one of the few parts of the UK where you can see greenshank in the winter. Many pass through the east coast and they can be seen in Cornwall and Devon but the only place further west than that in England is around the solent4. Indeed, we are lucky to have greenshank this far North at all during winter as the vast majority spend their winters in Africa, the Indian subcontinent and Australasia. 

So why do so many migratory birds spend winter at Lymington-Keyhaven? The reserve contains both a salt marsh and mudflats which are home to the invertebrates that these birds need to eat in vast numbers to survive5. There are also large creeks between the salt marsh which are perfect nursery areas for fish, again providing food for many of these species. The salt marsh also sits behind the sea wall which means these birds have their ideal coastal habitat yet are sheltered from the worst of the winter weather. 

Of course, I didn't just see migrants, I also saw plenty of resident birds. The highlight of these was the kingfisher which seemed to follow me around the reserve. 

Kingfishers are highly territorial birds- this it because they have to eat around 60% of their own body weight every day and so have to have control of a suitable stretch of river 6. They will fight off intruders, grabbing their beak and trying to hold it under the water. Territories are somewhere between half a mile and two miles long so it's likely this bird is the king of the Lymington-Keyhaven.

To conclude today I just wanted to refer back to a post from a few weeks ago. I speculated that 2017 had been a good year for bullfinch numbers. Well the BTO's BirdTrack survey has found hard data to support my own observations. This graph shows just how high the number of bullfinch sightings this year has been compared to usual 7. 

It's always nice to have my own observations made official! That's all for today but I'll hopefully be out and about lots over the festive season so there will be more soon!

4: RSPB: Greenshank
5: RSPB New Forest Local Group: Lymington-Keyhaven Nature Reserve
6: Fry, H. Fry, K and Harris, A (1999) Kingfishers, Bee-eaters and Rollers. London: Christopher Helm. pp. 219-221
7: Twitter: BTO