Sunday, 14 May 2017

13th May - Acres Down, New Forest & Martin Down NNR, Hampshire.

Overnight rain had eased as I left home, but it felt muggy and warm.  As I drove along the motorway there was very light rain, but turning off towards Acres Down I could see some blue sky.  The still conditions contributed to the amount of midges that were hanging around in the car park.  I was glad to get away from them, and walked along the cycle track.  I was here for some specialities of the New Forest, and I did not have to go too far before I came across the first, in the dark scrub by the side of the path I could hear a Wood Warbler singing.  Its a trilling song, that ends in a crescendo.  I cross the muddy ditch and made my was into the scrub.  The bird was above me, and I could see it was wearing a considerable amount of bling.

The only information I can find on a study of Wood Warblers is from the RSPB who quote studies in Wales and Devon.  This spot here in the New Forest has had a Wood Warbler singing in it for the last three year, and I don't recall seeing a bird with rings previously.  If any one has any information on the colour ringing of Wood Warblers, I would be interested to learn.

A little more information can be seen on a large drop of the metal ring, I believe it is a "9 S" maybe "19 S"

Update 1 15th May:  This Wood Warbler was ringed at Boulderwood in July 2016 It is part of a study where  geolocators have been fitted on birds in the New Forest and on Dartmoor, in a study coordinated by the BTO to attempt to find out where British Wood Warblers over-winter. 100 years of ringing has produced no recoveries of Wood Warblers south of the Sahara and colour ringing by RSPB in Burkina Faso has produced no sightings in the UK. So far the Dartmoor team have retrieved one tag but this is the first tagged bird to have been reported back in the New Forest.  It needs now to be caught, and the information as to where it has been taken from the geolocators.  Hopefully I will get an update if the capture is successful.

Update 2 - 16th May:  The Wood Warbler was located today, albeit about a kilometre west of where I had seen it, and succesfully caught, and the geolocator recovered.  This will now be delivered to the BTO for them to extract the data, and hopefully we can learn where it has been.  This is right on the limits of the geolocator to make it light enough for Wood Warblers so there are no gurantees the locator has worked, it is a case of fingers crossed.

Being under the canopy it was quite dull, which means a very high ISO rating, and some grainy pictures.

It really is a lovely warbler with that yellowish green plumage that stands it out from its cousins the Willow Warbler and Chiffchaff.

It seemed quite unconcerned by me, and allowed a quite close approach.

Showing off its rings.

I left with the Wood Warbler still singing, the song travelling a long way as I walked along the track.  A little further on another familiar song came from a clump of conifers, but this bird was not as confiding, and led me a very merry dance.  This was the best picture I could get of the Firecrest.

Having found the Wood Warbler and Firecrest early, I was hopeful of finding a Redstart, another summer visitor that can usually be found in the part of the Forest.  It proved quite difficult though.  At the dead tree I heard a short burst of Redstart song, but then nothing else.  I walked on towards Highland Water, a Grey Wagtail flew along the stream, and there were at least two more Firecrests, but both of these were as accommodating as the first.

Rather than walk on I decided to turn back, the path between here and the car park does have Redstart, and they have been reported this year, there had to be one.  But there wasn't, as I approached the car park above me a Stock Dove was the only bird of interest, it was singing from a dead branch.

I fought the midges once again as I had a cup of coffee, then decided to walk up onto Acres Down.  Taking the lower path I came across a singing Willow Warbler at the top of a bush.  All I needed now was a Chiffchaff to complete the three commoner phylosc sp warblers here in the UK

It was now overcast and there were some threatening clouds away to the west.  There was though, still no wind to speak of.  I walked a loop and came across a Woodlark singing from a clump of gorse.

The gorse too held a pair of Stonechats, the male very vocal.

The Gorse behind it providing a lovely background.

Heading back towards the car park I could hear a Cuckoo calling in the distance, and from the top of the trees to the right of me a Tree Pipit was singing.  A Great Spotted Woodpecker flew across carrying food and landed on the bough of a short Holly tree.

As I reached the tunnel of trees a Willow Warbler sang above me once again.  

I headed down through the trees,and down to the Car Park.  A Chiffchaff was singing in the trees above the car park.  As  it flew back and forth I thought I saw it move in the branches above me, but it wasn't a Chiffchaff it was a foraging Treecreeper.

Finally the Chiffchaff came out into the open, and posed nicely, if against a very white background.  All three photographed.

From the car park I walked to the heath on the other side.  I headed up the hill here, towards Hart Hill stopping at some pines to watch yet another Willow Warbler singing. A little further on and alarm calls alerted me to a falcon flying fast across the heath, a Hobby but was gone in a flash.  I reached a path close to a clump of gorse.  I disturbed a Woodlark from the path, and in the gorse there was another pair of Stonechats.  Both were calling, but the male would come much closer to me.

I used the gorse as a blind to get closer and photographed through the branches.

From a copse of Scots Pine I heard the song of a Redstart once again, and this time it kept singing.  I walked into the copse and found the bird but it was at the top of the pines, and was mobile while it sang, I never got a clear view at all, and in the end it flew off.  I had seen one, but I wanted a photograph, so the search had to continue.

I followed a path that led along a ridge parallel to the path that leads to Highland Water from the car park.  A little further on at Stonnard Wood I heard another Redstart singing from a group of Oak.  I walked into the trees, and found the bird flitting around in the branches.  It eventually appeared at the top of the tree, and I could get a good view, even if it was again against a white background.

Then something strange happened.  As I moved to get a better view, and alarm call went out, and I turned to see what a greyish brown bird with pointed wings come out of the bracken.  My first thought was Sparrowhawk due to the alarm call, but there was only one call, but something wasn't right.  I checked the bracken for maybe a kill and feathers but nothing was there at all.

It wasn't until I left that I considered Nightjar, there was no white on the wings which would mean a female.  The location was right, and it definitely wasn't right for a Sparrowhawk, but I could not be certain.

Through all this the Redstart continued singing, and I was getting a good view.

I would have liked a better view but this was OK for now.

I was heading now back to Highland Water Through Puckpits Inclosure, and passed yet again singing Firecrests.  In the trees the lichen was hanging like Spanish Moss from the branches.

Light rain began to fall once again as I headed down the path through Highland Water Inclosure, towards the bridge over the stream.  In the pines on my right hand side I could hear Crossbills, and at first I found one male out on a dead branch.

When you find one the others turn up, and it looked like a family party in the denser branches of the pine.  This being a juvenile bird.

Joined again by the male.

Finally they flew off and I walked down to Highland Water.  Walking a little further down the path I disturbed a Latticed Heath Moth in the grass.

As I arrived a Grey Wagtail was calling and flying back and forth.  I could also hear the scolding of Blackbirds, and went to investigate.  As I did so the Grey Wagtail flew back and forth again as if agitated.  The noise from the blackbirds got louder and then a larger bird flew from the branches, a Tawny Owl.  I walked in deeper, as the Blackbirds were still scolding, and found it on a branch, the Blackbird close by.

The Owl then flew off pursued by the Blackbirds, and the Grey Wagtail settled down.  Highland Water too was calm.

As I made my way back to the car I passed many walkers and cyclists, I did stop to see if I could get a view of another Firecrest but again it wasn't playing along.  In the car park I braved the midges and ate my lunch.  The sky was clearing, the sun was coming out and all was falling into place for my next location, Martin Down and hopefully some butterflies.

I arrived into the car park in sunshine.  There was also a breeze blowing across the down, so I headed along the line of the hedge, the shelter produced the first butterfly of the day, and the first for year, a Small Blue.

Coming out from the cover of the hedges I walked across the down, above a Kestrel hunted.

Once again it was song that led me to another year tick, this time the jangling song of a Corn Bunting.  Scanning the open area I found it at the top of a small hawthorn bush, and I set off to see how close I could get, which wasn't too bad.

The path eventually led to the Bokerly Ditch, and on the edge was a group of Burnt Tip Orchids.

I decided to walk in a southerly direction along the ditch, and almost immediately found the first Common Blue of the year.

The butterflies then started to appear, the sunshine and shelter from the ditch providing the magic touch.

The first Dingy Skipper of the year.

Then the butterfly I was hoping to find, a first for me, the Marsh Fritillary.

The wings of this beautiful butterfly are more brightly patterned than those of other fritillaries. The Marsh Fritillary is threatened, not only in the UK but across Europe, and is therefore the object of much conservation effort.

The Marsh Fritillary was once widespread in Britain and Ireland but has declined severely over the twentieth century. The Marsh Fritillary populations are highly volatile and the species requires extensive habitats or habitat networks for its long term survival. It is now confined to the western side of Britain.  There are only a few sites in Hampshire, and as with country populations these fluctuate widely.

As I walked along the ditch alongside the dyke I counted only the butterflies in front of me.  For the whole transect I counted 28 Marsh Fritillaries, quite a significant count.

As they flew up they would enter into duels, but this pair seemed to be getting on quite well.

An absolutely stunning butterfly, and one I am glad I have finally managed to catch up with.

The weather, the time of year all came together today.

The Marsh Fritillaries were not the only stars, as well as the Dingy Skippers there were several Grizzled Skippers.

While a dull colour, quite a detailed little butterfly

The firsts for the year kept coming, a Small Heath.

The year's first Silver Y.

More Small Blues.

Another Common Blue

There were many Brimstones about, mostly males, and they took a liking to the Cowslips.

From the dyke there are some lovely views, not least across towards the village of Martin.

I reached the end of the path, and turned down towards the car park.  Ahead of me was a clump of Hawthorn and scrub, which I hoped would hold the last new bird I was looking for today.

I stopped to talk to a birder who had seen and heard the Turtle Doves earlier.  Rather than stand and wait I walked on, and turned around to the other side.  As I did so I could hear the purring of a Turtle Dove, and found one at the top of a Hawthorn bush.

This site here at Martin Down is now the most reliable site to see this highly endangered bird.  Such a shame that the countryside is no longer enhanced by the purring song of this rather strange looking bird, it could almost be compared to a clown face.

The light and sky wasn't helping, but I was pleased with these open photographs.

As I watched the dove a small butterfly appeared on the flowers of the hawthorn bush.  I thought it might have been a Brown Argus, but on a closer look I have decided it is a female Common Blue.

A really interesting day, with highs and lows, and it needed some considerable effort at times, but ultimately I was able to find everything I wanted to, four year bird ticks, six year butterfly ticks and a lifer, not a bad outcome.

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