22 December 2016 Blackwater and Poundhill Heath area

Twelve of us met up in the Blackwater car park on a bright sunny morning after heavy overnight rain. There was a Nuthatch in the trees above us, the first of several seen during the walk that took us eastwards along the track towards Poundhill Heath. Beneath the beech trees a number of Blackbirds were sifting through fallen leaves for food as last night’s rain still sparkled on the branches and twigs above them.

Usnea florida
Maureen and Pam pointed out several species of lichen growing on a hawthorn by a gateway including Usnea florida. The walk had been relatively quiet until we reached the heath where in low hawthorns and birches we found a flock of some 30-40 Reed Buntings that eventually drifted away in small groups across towards an area of burnt gorse. Some lucky people also saw a female Yellowhammer, surely the best bird of the morning. As we walked along the edge of Poundhill Inclosure a female Roe Deer in the bracken chose to retreat into denser cover as a loose flock of Redwings flew out across the heath from the conifers of the inclosure.

Reed Bunting
Before we took the hoggin track through the inclosure back to the car park Mike served the biscuits whilst Brian, wearing a suitably seasonal hat, handed round chocolates. They must have done some good for a up in the trees a few hundred yards along the track a Firecrest was glimpsed along with a Coal Tit. We waited and watched for it to reappear, but to no avail. Sheila however had more patience, and by staying behind was thrilled with excellent views when it re-appeared and stayed in sight for several minutes.
Back at the car park we wished one another a Merry Christmas and looked forward to more enjoyable walks in 2017.

08 December Testwood Lakes

Sue and Geoff plus 9 (including one visitor) gathered at Testwood Lakes Centre on a rather dull morning for this meeting, mostly focusing on birds and identification of winter trees from their twigs.

There was virtually no wind so small birds were active and visible if somewhat difficult to identify in less than ideal light. Unfortunately the feeders near the centre had not been filled but around the lakes Long-tailed Tits and Goldfinch were much in evidence and Chaffinch, Greenfinch and Goldcrest were also spotted in the trees. Blue Tit and Great Tit were active on the feeders by the Heron hide and a Song Thrush landed in the nearby fields as we returned to the centre. As usual we were accompanied for most of the morning by a Robin or Robins which appear to have become a sort of unofficial mascot of LymNats field meetings.

Gadwall - a pair

Various species of gull were evident and there was spirited debate over one individual which was thought to be a Common Gull but, as it didn't look “happy,” was more likely a juvenile Herring Gull. We had an excellent view of Shoveler and Gadwall from the screens by the scrapes and a Pochard was spotted amongst Tufted Duck on Meadow Lake. Several Great Crested Grebe were seen with Lapwing, a Grey Heron and a group of Cormorants. In all, 33 species were identified.

As there had been few species of bird showing on the recce, Geoff and Sue added interest with a basic guide to identification of trees from their winter twigs (courtesy of the Woodland Trust website). This was enjoyed by all and generated much discussion as we closely examined various twigs as an alternative to naming trees from their leaves and/or winter shape. Alder, Oak, Willow, Hawthorn, Hazel, Lime and Field Maple were confirmed and we discovered (to our surprise) that Hazel twigs are hairy when examined with a hand lens.

04 December Keyhaven

On a bright, clear Sunday morning Brian + 8 (including 2 visitors) set off from Keyhaven taking the path atop the sea wall towards Iley Point and into a keen easterly wind.

November/December sees the peak numbers of winter visitors and these included Dark-bellied Brent Goose, Wigeon, Pintail, Curlew, Dunlin and Shoveler, both on the lagoons and offshore. Residents were well represented by Shelduck, Mallard, Coot and various gulls.

Male Wigeon (c) Simon Vale

On the outward leg there was a Raven flying west towards Keyhaven,  3 squabbling Little Egrets, 4 Avocets seen feeding and in flight on Keyhaven Lagoon and excellent close-up views of a Grey Plover, Rock Pipits and Turnstones.

The return via Pennington Old Tip and along the "Ancient Highway" produced a female Bullfinch, a Shoveler on its spin cycle on the Western Balancing Pond and a perching Kestrel. Black-tailed Godwit were notably absent, presumably being either inland or on a more sheltered site.

The high wind also accounted for the lack of small bird activity. It would have been a tall order to match the number of sightings on Duncan's walk 10 days earlier but hopefully the provision of "Club" biscuits was some consolation.

24 November Keyhaven

Weather - dry, cloudy becoming sunny, cold north-easterly wind.
Tides - neaps, Hurst Point high water 07.40; low water 12.40

While assembling in the small free car park we had good views of Red-Breasted Merganser, Robin and, at the back of the reeds, a female Marsh Harrier.

A group of 15 set off at 10.00 along the ancient highway to the lower Pennington Lane car park then on to the sea wall before completing the circular route at just after 12.30.

Apart from the above, our species list was Tufted Duck, Wigeon, Teal, Mallard, Canada Goose, Redshank, Oystercatcher, Black-tailed Godwit, Blackbird, Lapwing, Woodpigeon, Rook, Carrion Crow, Grey Heron, Gadwall, Shelduck, Great Crested Grebe, Little Grebe, Brent Goose, Little Egret, Coot, Moorhen, Ringed Plover, Golden Plover, Pintail, Grey Plover, Curlew, Turnstone, Dunlin, Knot, Mute Swan, Shoveler, Herring Gull, Black-headed Gull, Great Black-backed Gull, Pied Wagtail, Rock Pipit, Meadow Pipit and Cormorant.

Pied Wagtail (c) Simon Vale

On the edge of Jetty Lagoon, everyone was able to enjoy seeing a Great White Egret with the added bonus of being next to a Little Egret for size comparison.

After passing Keyhaven Lagoon, we spotted a Stonechat followed closely by good views of a Dartford Warbler.

Then, with the tide almost at its lowest, we counted 94 Black-tailed Godwits and in excess of 100 Dunlin at the water's edge.

Finally, back at the car park we saw two Marsh Harriers over the reeds, one was definitely a female but the other may have been a juvenile.

10 November Appleslade

The sunny morning was perfect for an autumn walk. Sixteen took the wide track southwards into Appleslade Inclosure, rising gently through bright yellow and bronze mixed woodland with leaves falling, A twitchy Grey Squirrel, Robin, Blackbird, Chaffinch and Jay were spotted and a few fungi: Amethyst Deceiver, puff balls and Boletus sp. At the edge we turned SW alongside Red Shoot Wood and were soon out in the breezy, open gorse and scrub shared by Rockford Common (National Trust) and Red Shoot Plain (National Park).

Meadow Pipit
As we headed westward to Little Whitemoor there were fleeting glimpses of Dartford Warbler, Raven, Redwing, Meadow Pipit, Stonechat and a solitary, pristine Red Admiral resting on gorse in the sunshine. Our path continued NW to a currently-dry stream bed beyond which we turned NE along the ridge looking westwards across bracken- brown and golden moorland above the Avon Valley to Somerley House. Turning N to a gravel pit we headed downhill through small trees to the Linwood road with a flurry of birds amongst abundant Holly berries and Crab Apples: Fieldfare, Redwing, Long-tailed Tits, Woodpigeon, Goldcrest. Apart from pesky midges the only insects seen were a large brown dragonfly, almost invisible against tree bark, a wasp and a hornet. 

6 November Maiden Lane

Adrian was unable to lead this walk so Duncan was asked to deputise!

We were a group of seven setting off from Maiden Lane at 10.00 on a lovely autumn morning approximately two hours after low tide (neaps).

Our first bird was a Little Egret standing quite happily within three feet of us on the edge of the dock adjacent to the path towards the sea wall.

Little Egret with catch (c) Louis Rumis
We walked on the sea wall past Normandy Lagoon to the Yacht Haven before taking the footpath through the reeds to Normandy Lane and then back to our start point.

Our additional species list was Ringed Plover, Dunlin, Turnstone, Curlew, Little Grebe, Buzzard, Meadow Pipit, Redshank, Shelduck, Greenshank, Black Tailed Godwit, Tufted Duck, Teal, Mallard, Wigeon, Kingfisher (on a post), Moorhen, Gadwall, Brent Goose, Grey Heron, Kestrel (perched and hovering), Linnet, Blackbird, Starling, Robin, Rook, Carrion Crow, Magpie and Wren.

As we walked along Normandy Lane we had an excellent view of a Roe Buck grazing in the field on the right hand side.

As Brian said at the end, 'It was not about the quality of the species but rather about the quantity'! We certainly had very good numbers of Teal, Dunlin, Wigeon and, relatively speaking, Linnet.

Overall, a very pleasant walk in good company!

27 October 2016 Acres Down

Porcelain Fungus
A couple of days of rain after a long dry spell had brought out the autumn colours and the fungi.  We walked from Acres Down car park through Wick Wood which is a lovely deciduous wood with plenty of leaf litter for the fungi.  Notable were the Fly Agaric under their associated Birch trees, the Porcelain Fungus gleaming on beech branches and the purple Amythest Deceiver buried in the fallen beech leaves.  

What was remarkable was how few edible fungi we found.   Sadly, in spite of all the publicity surrounding the Forestry Commission's warnings on fungi picking, the pickers had been busy and had left very little behind, just one small cluster of Hedgehog Fungi which we tried to hide as best we could.  A stiff climb up Acres Down and we enjoyed the views from the top, Sway Tower, the Isle of Wight and Southampton Docks were all visible.  This is a wonderful year for berries and grey rumped Fieldfares were enjoying the fine crop of Holly berries.

13 October 2016 Holmsley

A group of 16 naturalists set off on a cool, windy morning from Holmsley car park. Our first sighting were around 8 Swallows, gathering on the overhead wires. We walked on, along Holmsley Ridge, however very few birds were visible due to the windy conditions. When we arrived at an area of shallow disused gravel pits, a Snipe and Kingfisher flew away as we approached. We noted sundew and the end of the water lilies on the pond.

We then proceeded downhill to Whitten Pond. We saw different fungi en route, also Tormentil , hawkweed and a Kestrel.

Birch Maze-gill
We then joined with the disused railway line, known as Castleman's Corkscrew after Charles Castleman of Wimbourne, who promoted the meandering route. Here Brian showed the group pictures of the line when it was in action, and gave a brief history of its demise. On the streams passing along the side we noted a large number of Whirlgig Beetles, and the banks were host to a number of different fungi - Maze-gill, Funnel Fungus, a number of Russula, Birch Boletus, Wood Mushroom and Fly Agaric. Harebells were still in flower, and a Stonechat was seen.

Fly Agaric

On reaching the end of the track, a very active Honey Bees' nest was seen in the eaves of a house, and a solitary Red Admiral flew over the meadow.

(all pictures © Mary Mawdsley)

01 October 2016 Keyhaven bird walk

With the cancellation of the previous field meeting at Taddiford Gap, the Sunday birdwalk became the first outing of the winter programme. The day after New Moon and approximately 2 hours before high water, Brian + 8 set off from Keyhaven following the Brent Trail anticlockwise. On a glorious morning there was much activity - both avian and human. We were accompanied throughout by the aerial displays of myriad Swallows and House Martins.

 At Keyhaven Turnstones had returned for the winter to use various moored vessels to rest at high tide and Brent Geese had returned to the saltings. Looking across Keyhaven Marsh a Sparrowhawk was mobbed by corvids, but that paled to insignificance when an Osprey (left) suffered the same fate! In fact we had several sightings of the latter during the walk including it, or a different individual perhaps, which flew east over the Old Tip. 

Black Swan flanked by two Mute Swans
At Iley Point we found Dartford Warblers and Wheatears, whilst nearby at Keyhaven Lagoon a Black Swan (right) happily consorted with Mute Swans. The high tide forced many shorebirds off the saltings to roost on the lagoon's mudbanks including a large number of Black-tailed Godwits a few Grey Plover, Dunlin and Knot. An immature Ruff lurked along the lagoon’s rushy edge as a Kingfisher sped by. Wildfowl included Shelduck and Pintail.

One of Brian's Kestrels
It seemed that almost every post along the route offered a vantage point for a Kestrel (below). At Fishtail Lagoon a Grey Heron attempted to swallow a large uncooperative eel. Sue spotted a soaring female Marsh Harrier high above us and shorebirds on and around the lagoon added Golden Plover and Spotted Redshank to the ever growing list. Two Black-tailed Godwits wore colour rings from Peter Pott's ongoing research into the Icelandic race birds that winter along the Solent.

Along the Old Tip Cetti's Warblers were singing and a Common Buzzard passed overhead before we walked along the Ancient Highway to the Western Balancing Pond, where amongst a variety of wildfowl Shoveler were seen in eclipse plumage.

It was a morning that will take some beating with some 65 species of birds noted. There were more than just birds to see for we recorded Grey Seal, Roe Deer, Red Admiral and Painted Lady butterflies and a number of unidentified hawker dragonflies.