We arranged to meet Richard Smith a couple of days early for our walk, due to the poor forecast for Thursdays weather . Meeting up at Setley Pond in early morning sunshine we immediately saw the grey heron, as Setley is known for its long standing heronry. Walking towards the A337 on first the heath and then through narrow paths we noted fresh rabbit holes, a field of crows and a pair of probably goldfinches flying swiftly away.
A not-to-be-missed opportunity to leave gloomy lockdown behind and to travel with us to sunny Central America to learn about the colourful and magical bird life of Costa Rica. Our speaker will be wildlife photographer, Steve Oakes.
At this time of year many of us have been looking for fungi in the Forest. One that you may have overlooked is Claviceps purpurea, Ergot of Rye.
Easily missed, this is one of the most significant fungi in the history of mankind. It belongs to the fungal group called Ascomycetes and affects the ovaries of many grass species, but it is especially important in the Rye grass species. The ‘Ergot’ (from the old French argot, a cockspur) is the overwintering structure of the fungus. It contains a cocktail of alkaloids that cause harm and death to animals, including us.
During the Middle Ages ergot may have poisoned at least 10% of the population of western Europe, due to the use of rye in bread production. Until 1670 it was not understood that ergot was the cause of severe illness when ingested.
The effects of eating ergot in bread depend on the concentration of the alkaloids, but convulsions, spontaneous abortions and gangrene are the most obvious. It causes the peripheral blood vessels to contract, cutting off the blood supply to the extremities and to the womb, hence the miscarriages. It also contains hallucinogens making sufferers incoherent. It was commonly known as St. Anthony’s Fire as the sufferers were treated in hospitals dedicated to St. Anthony, usually until they died. Some outbreaks in the 1800s are reported to have had mortality rates of up to 40%.Nowadays there are ways of separating the ergots from the rye seed and there are many pharmaceutical uses for the alkaloids, but I wouldn’t recommend eating any that you find!
|Schultze Gunpowder Factory - then and now|
Little is left of the factory that at one time employed over 100 people and was the world’s largest supplier of sporting gunpowder. Some of the remaining buildings can still be seen and are believed to be stabling for 40 horses and accommodation. Additionally, the gravel track from where the walk sets off, is known as Powder Mill Road, providing a route for explosives to be taken by horse and cart up onto the Cadnam road (3).
Setting off on a bright calm morning, the pond was mirror calm, disturbed only by numerous pairs of Mallard, a few Moorhen, and a single Little Grebe. Immediately beside the car park, is a favourite spot for photographers who bait the surrounding posts and attract large numbers of woodland birds. Today was no exception and there were frequent visits by Blue Tit, Great Tit, Marsh Tit, Nuthatch, Robin and Chaffinch. Walking just a few yards north along the track, brings you to the site of the Irons Well or Chalybeate, marked on the OS. Here, a spring rises, rich in iron salts giving the ground a rusty brown appearance. The waters were thought to be a cure for leprosy and later, for curing mange in dogs and at one time there was a hatch where people could drop their unfortunate dogs into the healing waters! Nowadays the spring is simply an enclosed square close by the path.
Walking further along the track a Great Spotted Woodpecker called in the trees lining the path but evaded attention. Crossing over the valley and fording the small brook, that feeds Eyeworth pond, there is a short climb up onto the ridge above the valley where a fairly extensive stand of Holly trees is found. These were attended by Blackbird, Song Thrush and a small contingent of Redwing that proved flighty and difficult to photograph, but eventually patience was rewarded!
Crossing the bridleway you reach the old earth embankments that define Studley Wood, a mixture of predominantly beech and some oak trees looking lovely in the Autumn sunshine. Little is left of Studley Castle, the old Hunting Lodge, aside from some slightly raised earthen banks, but it is a tranquil part of this forest. Walking back down the firebreak towards Eyeworth I heard a tremendous clattering of antlers in the woods and paused to watch, from a respectful distance, two Fallow Buck battering at each other, whilst the does looked on with little interest! Very few fungi were seen aside from some Candle Snuff fungi (Xylaria hypoxylon) on a log. A treecreeper explored an Oak tree, buzzard called overhead and Goldcrest flitted through the holly bushes but again, but all evaded photography!
|Candle Snuff Fungus|
Returning to the pond, just above the sluice gate at the southern tip, I watched a Kingfisher hover briefly and dive before speeding off with its catch. Several pairs of Mandarin Duck, for which Eyeworth is known, eventually emerged from the edge of the pond and showed off in the sunshine. Finally, as I returned to the car, I was delighted to see Robert and Glynis, and again reminded of the pleasure of walking with a group of experts - one day, somehow, we will get back to that! Until then I post a route map and GPX file that can be downloaded by those wishing to follow the route.
Map / GPX
Happily for me, Richard Smith had offered to accompany me on the walk. In so doing, he represented the "wisdom of a full Lymnats contingent" (thankyou Geoff for that observation) and acted as photographer. So thankyou Richard.
|Turkey Tail |
On a bright but showery morning Geoff and Richard Smith “gathered” for the programmed field meeting at Calshot, albeit a day late and an earlier start for convenience.
Fortunately, the torrential rain held off until we were heading back to the cars but one of the earlier showers provided the most spectacular sighting of the day – a double rainbow over the Fawley power station chimney. This was a real juxtaposition of nature and industry and although Richard's photo is brilliant, you had to be there to fully appreciate it!
Collared doves accompanied our walk from the village down the field to the reed beds where the sunlight briefly caught the arrow like flight of a Kingfisher. However, our patience was not rewarded with a reappearance so we moved on.
Across the heath towards the saltmarsh, numerous fungi were evident which certainly highlighted our lack of expertise in mycology even with a handbook at the ready!
|Common Puffball © RS|
|Common Toadflax © RS|
There was a fine display of Common Toadflax in flower and a dog rose laden with hips as we headed on towards the Calshot Marshes reserve. Here it was low tide so many of the waders were well out at the waters edge. There were several Curlew, Redshank, and Black Tailed Godwits and an abundance of Oystercatchers. Several Little Egrets were busy among the grasses and offshore there was a large raft of Widgeon and the usual Cormorant on a post with wings outstretched. A couple of Stonechats were darting about on the shingle bank demonstrating how effectively they are camouflaged as they “disappeared” when still.
|Sea Kale © Geoff Nuckley|
© Geoff Nuckley
Following our last talk, which took us to the beautiful countryside of Shropshire, we are returning closer to home for our next Zoom meeting, which promises to be full of local interest. Derek Tippet will be talking about the work of the Pondhead Conservation Trust to restore and manage woodland in the Pondhead Inclosure near to Lyndhurst, including charcoal production. Invitations have been sent out to members for the talk which is at 7.15 pm on 27th October.
Details of how you can join the society to access our wonderful, varied range of talks can be found on our membership page.
The big excitement this month has been the Wilson’s phalarope on Keyhaven Marsh, a very obliging bird showing well for all and sundry. This is a bird of the Western USA in Summer and Argentina in Winter. This puzzled me, so I started to search the literature to see how this bird could end up here!
Unlike its relatives the Grey (Red) and Red-necked phalaropes it is not a bird of the ocean. It nests around lakes and lacks the highly developed salt-gland of the other two species. However, it is a bird prone to ‘reverse migration’ (genetically programmed dispersal) and has been found in Australia and southern Africa. One was found dead on Alexander Island in Antarctica, making it the most southerly wader in the world. There is also a move into eastern Canada where most of the European vagrants seem to originate from. It first turned up in the UK in 1954 and has been a regular, if scarce, visitor ever since. This one appears to be the seventh recorded in Hampshire. The bird at Keyhaven is not a juvenile, it is an adult bird, suggesting that it got across the Atlantic a year or two ago and is now commuting North and South between West Africa and Scandinavia. This has been documented with other waders, so why not? But why here, on a pocket-handkerchief of a marsh? Well I think the answer lies in the other local migrants.
The Grey phalarope is known to have favourite stop-offs on its migration routes. This is the third year that I have seen them at Keyhaven so it is not too much of a stretch to suggest that these birds have been here before and could well return next year. The Wilson’s getting here is probably down to it being with the Greys.
Also, you may not have noticed that a Bar-tailed godwit has just broken the record for the longest non-stop migration ever recorded. It left south-west Alaska on the 16th September and arrived in New Zealand 11 days later! 7,500 miles, having flown at speeds up to 55mph. The bird in question is known as 4BBRW (the colour coding of its rings) and carried a 5mg satellite tag harnessed to its lower back. Amazing.
Brian was accompanied by cameraman Richard Smith on what would have been the first Sunday bird walk of the winter programme (08.30 - 10.45). The early start was because of the state of the tide (LW 06.18, HW 12.46) although there was not a big tidal range. On a squally, showery morning there was still plenty of interest around 8 Acre Pond and Normandy Lagoon.
In the departure lounge: Swallow, Wheatear.Arrivals: Wigeon coming from their Arctic nesting grounds, staying until March.Throughout the walk conditions deteriorated for us spectacle wearers!BM
The car park lies part way along the road from Emery Down to Bolderwood and was the site of intensive timber operations during the First World War. A sawmill was operated by men from Canada and Portugal to provide timber for the war effort and a narrow gauge railway operated to transport it away. All that remains today are some concrete blocks and the fireplace of a long gone building, known now as The Portuguese Fireplace.
|Holidays Hill Inclosure|
On entering the Holidays Hill Inclosure we quickly turned off the cycle track along a path to the right into dense woodland where we came across a variety of fungi including Grey Spotted Amanita, Split Fibrecap, Southern Bracket, False Deathcap, Common Puffball and a Robin at every turn!
|Grey Spotted Amanita|
We made our way through the wood, mostly with conifer on one side and deciduous on the other, skirting the edge of Wooson’s Hill Inclosure and made our way round the south side coming across a tiny clump of yolk yellow fungal fingers called Golden Spindle. More clumps of fungi on rotting stumps, Sulphur Tuft and Sheathed Woodtuft, and soon we found the first of the King’s Trees that we were looking for.
|King’s Trees Mark|
These trees are marked with a slashed arrow to indicate that they were now earmarked for use in ship building for the King’s fleet in the 17th century and must not be cut down or pollarded by anyone else. We also found what we think are Witches Marks, made during a similar time to ward off evil spirits. Continuing around the Inclosure to Wooson’s Hill we found several more imposing King’s Trees, all Beech, among the Bracken and Bilberry.
Crossing the road, we took the path into Holmhill Inclosure where we found lovely specimens of Cauliflower Fungus and Golden Scalycap
and then a single Roe deer very close by among the trees, seemingly totally unconcerned about our presence. It even decided to settle down on the carpet of autumn leaves before we went on our way.A couple of Chiffchaff flitted in the sunshine among the Silver Birch as we passed on our way back to the car park. The walk which should have taken about two and a half hours to complete took three and a half on this occasion! In true Lymnats spirit, why rush when there’s so much to see?