Saturday, 31 December 2016

2016

2016 is drawing to a close so I thought that I'd look back at the year in today's blog post. So here's a few highlights from my wild 2016.
Bournemouth Peregrine Falcons
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It was amazing to watch live pictures of a peregrine falcon nest only a few miles away in the centre of Bournemouth. We could watch the eggs hatch and the chicks grow up until the point they eventually left the nest. Hopefully the falcons will return to the nest this coming Spring and the camera will be running once again.
Canada Geese Nursery
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I was able to watch a large number of canada geese raise goslings and regularly came within a few metres of the gorgeous young birds. Because the goslings can't fly the geese are forced to raise their young within a fairly small area, which just so happens to be very near my house.
Butterfly Bonanza
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It's just come out that this year was particularly bad for insects (BBC News). Living in the South of the country though means the weather remains fairly mild and I was lucky enough to see lots of different butterflies over the year. It also worked out that I could see them regularly from the Spring right through to November. I think I counted well over twenty different species which is not bad considering I didn't really travel that far.
Local Deer
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I feel that deer are often overlooked my nature enthusiasts but I've really enjoyed getting to know the local deer this year. As well as magical encounters like the fallow stag above and a brief glimpse of a white stag I have spent lots of time watching the roe deer that live near the river Avon. On virtually every visit there would be three deer somewhere on the floodplain.
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Beautiful Brownsea
In September I visited Brownsea Island in Poole Harbour and looking back I think that was probably the best day of my year. I saw lots of waders in the lagoon, including spoonbills, loads of beautiful insects across the island and got really close to a Sika deer!
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I wrote two blog posts on my Brownsea adventure (Brownsea Island Lagoon and Brownsea Island II) and I will certainly be returning in 2017!
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Fantastic Fungi
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As Autumn came around I became enthralled with the amazing things that are fungi. They come in all shapes and sizes and this year seemed to be particularly good for them- everywhere I looked another amazing fungus would be spotted. I never had that much interest in them before but now I've become a little obsessed!
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Great White Egret
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I'd never seen one before but this year I was able to get really close to Blashford Lakes' winter resident Walter on a number of occasions. Great white egrets are beautiful birds and still relatively unusual in the UK. They are becoming more common and I saw a second individual at Longham Lakes recently.
All that was just the tip of the iceberg. Here are my final blog totals for 2016- these numbers are animals I have featured on this blog and only count those with photos so even then I've seen plenty more. And I only started the blog in April too!
Birds: 73
Mammals: 8
Reptiles: 2
Invertebrates: 48
Fungi: 27
I've got lots of exciting plans for 2017 so watch this space. Happy New Year!

Wednesday, 28 December 2016

Longham Lakes

I’m always on the lookout for new nature reserves to visit and last week I discovered Longham Lakes. Located between Ferndown and Bournemouth, the site consists of two reservoirs. The area was originally filled until they began to be dug for gravel extraction in the 1990s. Eventually the gravel pits were flooded and since 2010 the site has been a good habitat for a variety of bird life.
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I perhaps didn’t choose the best day to visit, going a few hours before Storm Barbara really took hold. This meant it was quite cloudy and really windy- the reservoirs were full of waves for much of my visit. I was still delighted to discover there was plenty of bird life to see.
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This was the scene on the South reservoir- you can see mute swans, lots of coot and a few tufted ducks. One of the swans was clearly one of this year’s cygnets.
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The first bird I saw clearly was actually just on the gravel path at the edge of the reservoir. It was this carrion crow which had hold of an apple core. It was desperate to fly off as I approached but it made sure it had a good grip on the apple before it did so.
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There were plenty of more interesting birds on the lakes too- pochardsshovelers  and both great Crested and little grebes. With the low light and windy weathers getting clear photos was virtually impossible!
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At the middle of the South reservoir were some solar panels which cormorants were making good use of.
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As you can see, much of the lakes are surrounded by reeds and in one section of these I spotted a stonechat darting around.
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Just outside of the Longham Lakes site lies Hampreston Fields. Due to their location between the lakes and the River Stour they are usually filled with geese, as they were on my visit (in this case Canada geese and possibly a couple of greylag geese too), and swans.
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The highlight of my visit to Longham Lakes had to be the great white egret though. It was sat amongst the reeds on the North Reservoir right near the path which meant I could get a really clear look at it. I’ve seen the Blashford egret regularly but never at such close range so this was a real treat.
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As I was in the area I walked up the road to where it crosses the River Stour. I have often driven over the bridge there are there is always birds to be seen. On my visit there was a little egret amongst the reeds and I managed to see this kingfisher too.
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I really enjoyed my visit to Longham Lakes and will definitely return- next time I’ll try and go in better weather! You can find out more about the site on Dominic Couzens website here and there’s even a blog of recent sightings!
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Saturday, 24 December 2016

Christmas Crackers

I have the Christmas period off work so I had an excellent opportunity to get out and about in the local area. It's been fairly mild and wet here this week so I've had to plan carefully in order to try and dodge the rain. It does also mean I had to keep trying to take photos in low light which is never easy.
One visit was to Lymington-Keyhaven Nature Reserve again. It's always full of birds but it seemed mostly to be full of wigeon this time. Everywhere I looked there were wigeon! Pictured below is an example of just one individual and also the over-wintering brent geese and a few lapwings.
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I managed to spot a couple of other duck species too. A pair of shelduck landed in the marsh and there were a few teal dabbling in the stream right next to the path.
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There were also plenty of waders. Here's the usual redshank and black tailed godwit.
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I got a particularly good view of a pair of dunlin on this visit- usually they are much further away.
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And once again I managed to spot a ringed plover.
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Finally, here's a little egret standing on one leg in the marsh.
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I also visited Blashford Lakes this week. I managed just avoid a heavy rain shower but I timed it well and was treated to this lovely site as I approached the reserve.
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Oddly my first bird spot on the lakes was a wren, darting around the branches at the edge. I think is the first time I've actually managed to get a photo of a wren to share here which is remarkable given how often I see them. The problem is of course that they are very small and quite fast so getting even an OK photo of one is tricky!
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I added a view more ducks to this week's collection, a few pochard and a shoveler
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In one of the hides I also got a really clear view of a tufted ducks. These ducks are really common at this time of year but I think they are a really handsome bird.
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There are still a few interesting fungi around the reserve at the moment. This is Hairy Curtain Crest (Stereum hirsutum), which is great to look at and is one of the most common fungi in the country.
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And finally here's a so far unidentified species of fungus with a remarkable purple colour to it.
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Thank you so much for following my wildlife encounters and rest assured that I have lots of exciting things planned for 2017. I hope you have a very merry Christmas and I'll be back very soon.

Saturday, 17 December 2016

Local Lovelies

I will begin with some admin from my last post. In said post I shared a distant photo from my visit to Blashford Lakes of what I thought was a dunlin.
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Tom Moodie suggested that it's actually a green sandpiper. I'm happy to bow to his superior knowledge. I find wader identification particularly challenging. Green sandpipers are winter migrants that can be seen on freshwater margins in the South of the UK- this individual certainly ticks all those boxes!
A few weeks ago I shared my excitement at spotting a pair of goosander on the local fishing lake. I walked past the lake again today and was amazed to see that there was a whole flock of goosander.
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I counted over 30 individuals which was great! There was also a large number of little egrets on the shore of the lake too, around 20 in total.
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Look at that- egrets, goosander and I think a cormorant on the left all within a few hundred yards of my house! Speaking of cormorants I have noticed that the cormorant roost too has grown in numbers- I spotted about fifteen individuals this afternoon. Whilst you can't see the lake from our house you can stand at the end of our drive and see the cormorant roost.
The housing estate is always home to a lot of starlings and they gather in large numbers in the afternoons at the moment. Some trees end up covered in them.
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Also appearing in large clumps in the local trees at the moment is mistletoe.
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Mistletoe is of course a parasitic plant, relying on its host tree for life. It attaches to the tree and penetrates its branches, absorbing water and nutrients from them. Large plants can kill parts of the branch and a heavy infestation can even kill the whole tree. Mistletoe is actually really important ecologically though as it provides food for lots of different species of birds.
I've seen the Avon roe deer a few times lately and today I got a really close look at three deer in some farmland. Although they gave me a good look these deer didn't see too worried that I was only a couple of hundred metres away from them.
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I'm sad to say that where these deer were is yet another area of Ringwood threatened by development. Plans for the first phase of a 175 home development on this site were submitted this week. (Further details here).
I do recognise that nationally we need more houses. The trouble is that Ringwood has grown and grown and in my opinion has reached capacity. The doctors are full, the schools are full and the local roads are virtually a permanent traffic jam.
But even more importantly, this is a great site for wildlife. Roe deer this weekend. The kestrel I saw a lot about a month ago was here. Virtually all the butterfly photos I shared on this blog in the spring and summer were here. And I only pass through here once a week and must only see a fraction of what's actually there.
All the wildlife in this post was seen within half a mile of my house. It's incredible and I feel so privileged to live here. But with every green space on the edge of the town (no exaggeration) being planned or considered for development we could lose most of it in the next twenty to thirty years and it breaks my heart.

Sunday, 11 December 2016

Woodland Wonders

After a short cold snap the temperature has shot up again and we are having temperatures of more than 10°C during the day, the sort of temperature we'd be expecting to find in Spring.Today I visited Blashford Lakes for my first visit in a few weeks. It's the woodland where all the action is at the moment as the birds make use of an easy source of food.
The most common species by the feeders were goldfinches. The niger feeder was nearly empty but they didn't seem too bothered by this and were happy with the other seeds.
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It was lovely to see lots of greenfinches too. They used to be one our most common garden birds but they seemed to have declined significantly and these days we rarely see them at all.
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As you'd expect there were a fair few blue tits and the occasional great tit around the feeders too.
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I noticed this female chaffinch on the base of the feeder which appears to have a significant eye injury- it looks like it may have lost it's eye completely. It didn't seem to hinder this individual though as it was feeding and flying around like all the other birds around it.
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The robin seemed to have a different feeding tactic to most of the other birds, flying onto the feeder when it was quiet, quickly grabbing a seed and then flying away. I'm not sure why they do this considering that robins are one of the braver birds around- perhaps it's just because they don't like to be near other birds.
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Elsewhere in the woods there were lots of blackbirds and some song thrushes rummaging through the leaf litter looking for food.
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The lakes themselves were relatively quiet. As usual they were dominated by coot and tufted ducks but I got a clear shot of a pochard too.
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On an island on one of the lakes I spotted a pair of the local Egyptian geese population- these are non-native birds but can often be seen at Blashford.
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Another non-native bird is the Great White Egret but Walter is a regular Winter visitor. He was looking as splendid as ever today. You can see the red ring on his leg which identifies him.
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An unexpected bird from today was this blurry dunlinWhilst not rare or unusual they are not a bird I've seen at Blashford before- they are usually found closer to the coast.
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Cormorant numbers seem to have risen somewhat since my last visit with the trees full of them and constant fly-overs.
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Sunday, 4 December 2016

December Delights

It's been a cold week here with the temperature dropping well into minus figures overnight and frost that has lasted for several days when the sun hasn't reached it. Our weather station says it reached as low as -5° C.
Inevitably this appears to have had an effect on the wildlife. It was really noticeable on my regular walk yesterday just how quiet things were and how little wildlife there was to be seen compared to normal. I did get lucky though and made a surprising spot- two goosander on the fishing lake. I've never seen any there before so it was completely unexpected.
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Today I visited Lymington-Keyhaven Nature Reserve which is full of bird life at any time of year but even more so the moment. As soon as I saw the marsh I could see there was a flock of brent geese there.
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There's a lot going on this photo with a few widgeon in the foreground. If you look to the right of the picture on the water you can see the clearest view of a brent goose. These geese are small, about the same size as a mallard, and are winter visitors to our shores. The ones pictured are of the dark-bellied subspecies and breed in Northern Russia.
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There were plenty of other waterfowl on the marsh including a few teal. I was surprised at how dark this one's stripe is- I can't even see any green in there.
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There's a clearer view of the many widgeon in the back of this photo which also shows the only avocets I could see on the marsh.
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There were loads of different waders on the marsh too. Probably the most common were bar-tailed godwits.
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There were also plenty of redshank around but they seemed more timid and therefore harder to photograph. You can still make out the bright red legs here though.
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I also managed to find a few dunlin. Like many waders, these birds lose their brown summer plumage and become greyer in winter.
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This is one of my favourite waders, a gorgeous little bird and a fairly uncommon one too, the ringed plover. In may have migrated here but it might actually be a resident- you can see ringed plovers on the south coast all year around if you know where to look.
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It was a kingfisher that outdid all the others though. I was admired a stunning shoveler on the marsh when a kingfisher came and sat on the barbed wire fence close to the path. It kept sitting and fishing from various points along the fence and seemed to follow us through a fair chunk of the reserve. They are always fantastic birds to see and this one put on quite a show for us.

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