A Warbler A Day

A Warbler a day keeps the doctor at bay – Wildlife sightings from Hamsphire and beyond

June/July Highlights

I’m sorry about the lack of updates recently. The World Cup and a busy time at work have rather got in the way. I have managed to get some nature walks in though and below are some of the highlights.

15th June: At trip to Farley Mount country park where I was serenaded by Tree Pipit.

21st June: A walk along Acres Down in the New Forest where in addition to lots of Silver-spotted Blue butterflies I saw a very pretty day-flying moth, a male Clouded Buff, which is rich yellow with pink markings.

26th June: A trip to the Butterfly Conservation nature reserve at Bentley Wood on the Wiltshire border. Though I did not spot any Purple Emperors, which are the reserve’s speciality, there were plenty f other butterflies; Ringlets, White Admirals and Silver-washed Fritillaries. I also saw another Tree Pipit plus other woodland birds such as Nuthatch and Marsh Tit.

5th July: Though the day was grey and damp it fortunately cleared for a bat walk and moth night on the edge of Andover. On the bat walk we stopped for 10 minutes at the corner of an arable field whilst a dozen Pipistrelles flew above us, often only 2 or 3ft above. The mothing afterwards was also good, 30 moths of 26 species .

11th July: I spent the day at Martin Down on the Hampshire/Wiltshire border. There were butterflies galore, particularly Dark-green Fritillaries, Marbled Whites and Skippers. The only disappointment was that there no blues flying. On the bird front, it was pleasing to find several Corn Buntings and I am sure I spotted a Redstart which is unusual but not unheard of for the site. After driving down to Fordingbridge for some dinner I returned at dusk for another moth night. And what a night it was! Over 80 moths of 55 species, 31 of which were year ticks and 10 lifetime ticks. There were several big beauties such as Drinkers, Elephant and Small Elephant Hawks. It was fantastic!

19th July: I have started regularly visiting an underpass near Rooksbury Mill to look for moths. I though that as today was supposed to be wet and miserable I would visit there this morning. Along with the usual Common and Dingy footmen and Black Arches, I found another lifetime tick, an August Thorn. On the way back to the car I got talking to one of the photographers who regularly visit the reserve who told me about a group of wader-like birds that had been seen on the Mill Lake. I thought they must be Common Sandpipers. I walked over to the lake and immediately the four Sandpipers flew off from some lily pads towards the other end of the lake where they dropped out of view not to reappear. i have seen single Sandpipers there before but never that many.

Heathland Specials

This weekend my walks have been mainly around heathland habitats. Yesterday I went down to the New Forest basing myself around Beaulieu Road Station. In the morning I went for a short stroll along the track leading from the Forestry Commission car park. I almost immediately encountered several Meadow Pipits singing as they ‘parachuted ‘ back to the ground. At the top of the hill is some large gorse bushes and as hoped they were home to a Dartford Warbler which helpfully perched in the open for a few seconds. I also saw a Curlew flying over. On the walk back I spotted a Brimstone Moth, a common moth but not one which is often seen during the day. I also saw my first Crambid moth of the year, Crambus pascuella. As I reached the car park I heard the unmistakeable song of a Woodlark, a series of repeated phrases that fall in pitch as they speed up. A quick scan of the pine trees found the bird which then flew to the ground. After lunch I went on a longer, and muddier, walk through Denny wood and the Bishop’s Dyke and Shatterford areas. I was hoping for dragonflies but all I found were a few Large Red Damsels. I faired better with birds and moth though. I saw 3 male Redstarts, 1 in Denny Wood and 2 in the trees by bridge at the southern end of Bishop’s Dyke. Another Dartford Warbler was spotted , this time singing from the top of a pine sapling the bridge over the railway. Not far from there I spotted both Common Heath and Latticed Heath moths, whilst there were several Brown Silver-line moths flying around Bracken, their foodplant, along Bishop’s Dyke. I ended the day with a stroll along the sea at Lepe Country Park where I hoped to see plenty of Terns. Unfortunately all I got was one distant Sandwich Tern. However I did manage to spot a Lesser Whitethroat along the path to Stansore Point which more than made up for the lack of Terns.

Today I went for a quick spin around Rooksbury Mill before heading to Greenham Common in search of Nightingales. Rooksbury Mill provided good numbers of Damselflies, Blue-tailed, Azure and my first Common Blues of the year. At Greenham Common I added a female Broad-bodied Chaser to my list. I went for a long circuit of the site ending at the Fireplane where I saw the Nightingales last year. There was one about today, though it was singing from deep inside a tree. Fortunately I managed to see some other nice species. A Garden Warbler was spotted singing near the Fireplane, where I also saw a Woodlark perching on top of a building with a mouth full of insects. I had earlier got an even better view of one on the ground less than 10 feet away from me. Other birds seen included a male Sparrowhawk and a Red Kite both flying low over Crookham Common, several Lapwings mobbing a crow and several Willow Warblers. I also added a couple of day-flying moths to my year list, another Crambid, Crambus lathionellus, and a Cinnabar.

A lepidopterists weekend

This weekend my focus has been mostly on butterflies and moths. Yesterday i went to a bat walk and moth trapping event at Rooksbury Mill run by The Anton River Conservation Association (TARCA). Whilst waiting for the walk I got a glimpse of one of the resident otters. On the walk several Pipistrelles were spotted weaving through the trees and a Daubenton’s Bat was briefly viewed flying over the river. I then spent 2 hours by the moth trap with the rest of the moth enthusiasts. It was great, 21 species, most of them year ticks. 2 of them I had never seen before, a tiny micro called Lathronympha strigana and a macro moth, the Scalloped Hazel. I am waiting for Graeme, the session leader to identify 3 others that we couldn’t at the time.

I spent today enjoying the sunshine around Stockbridge. First I visited the Common Marsh where the warblers, Cetti’s and Reed, stayed annoyingly out of sight. I did managed to spot some damselflies, Large Red and Banded Demoiselles. I then strolled around Stockbridge Down. This was more successful. Even before I left the car park I saw my first Grizzled Skipper of the year. Over the next hour and a half I spotted 11 more species including Small Heath and Small Copper (both fisst for the year) as well a Common Blue, a Comma and numerous Orange tips and Brimstones. The best butterfly though cam just before I got back to the car park. A Fritillary, that I am sure can only be a Pearl-bordered, basking on some nettles. I have haven’t seen one of these since 2004. I also had more luck with warblers getting views, albeit brief ones, of Chiffchaff, Blackcap, Whitethroat and, eventually, Garden Warbler.

Oh for more weekends like this one!

A Tour Round Winnal Moors

Yesterday I took the day off work to go on a walk organised by the Hampshire Wildlife Trust around Winnal Moors. This is a large reserve near the centre of Winchester. The walk was round the Northern section which is normally closed to the public. The reserve is mostly water meadows and reedbeds. As expected it was very squelchy underfoot but this did not stop the walk being enjoyable and informative. I saw plenty of Banded Demoiselles, my first of the year and a Roe Deer was glimpsed in amongst the reeds. All the way round the site we heard Reed and Sedge Warblers without getting much of a view of them. On the journey home I was surprised to spot a pair of Shelducks on a flooded field in Wherwell. That evening I had a lovely stroll up the Red Rice Road spotting Whitethroats, Linnets, a Skylark and a Red-legged Partridge.

Today work kept me in Andover though eating lunch in the park by my office I spent several minutes watching a Song thrush foraging and eventually finding a nice juicy earthworm only to have it snatched away by a male Blackbird.

A Perfect Bank Holiday!

At the weekend I headed back to Essex, mainly to see my beloved Southend United’s last home game of the season. Naturally I took the opportunity to get in some nature walks over the weekend. On Saturday I broke my journey to Southend with a stop for lunch at Wat Tyler Country Park near Basildon. After a lovely cheese and ham toastie I walked to the main hide which overlooks a scrape and its surrounding reedbed. The reedbed were alive with the sound of Reed and Cetti’s Warblers but the birds I saw were the normally even more elusive Bearded Tits. The first I’ve seen since 2008. Three of the them chased each other around a bush in the reeds on a couple of occasions and a male nicely perched in view for a few seconds. A short walk from the hide to the marina added several Whitethroats and a Blackcap to my list for the day. By the smaller Cottage hide I heard a Lesser Whitethroat singing, getting a brief glimpse as it flew to another bush. A little further along 2 Cetti’s Warblers flashed across my path. As well as some lovely birds, the visit also produced my first damselfly of the year, a Large Red.

On the Sunday afternoon I made one of my regular visits to Rainham Marshes RSPB reserve. There I saw the usual mix of waterfowl, including a couple of Wigeon that still had not made their way north yet and a Shoveler. All the way round the reserve I was serenaded by Whitethroats and Reed and Sedge Warblers, many of which obliging perched in full view. A Cuckoo could be heard calling form the Woodland area but was not so obliging. I was entertained for a few minutes in the Ken Barrett Hide by a couple of Little Grebes that appeared to be engaged in a territorial dispute. Further along the northern boardwalk through he reedbed I spotted some birds zipping across the top of the reeds. Amazingly they were more Bearded Tits. Two days running! The walk back to the centre along the southern boardwalk added a first dragonfly species, some Hairy Dragonflies patrolling the ditch.

Driving back to Hampshire, I took a detour to visit Thursley and Frensham Commons. Thursley is known as one of the best dragonfly sites in the country. Initially, though, dragonflies were hard to come by. However the bird life was excellent. I spotted a male Redstart flitting around a tree on the area known as Shrike Hill. This is an area of dry wooded heath above the extensive bog. The Redstart posed beautifully for a few minutes on a branch. Yet when a man with a camera arrived it almost immediately moved. A little further along I saw a bird perched in a dead tree. Closer inspection confirmed my initial suspicion, it was a Cuckoo. Last year I heard several around the Test Valley but not seen any of them. Here was one in full view. It occasionally flew off to a new perch. On the other side of the path a Tree Pipit was regularly performing its song flight displays from a tall tree. As for insect life, the most interesting sighting was a species of day flying moth, the Common Heath, which as its name implies is a common moth of heathlands. Whilst walking back across the bog I spotted a birdwatcher looking up with his binoculars. I followed suit and saw a Hobby, another year tick. At least two more turned up as I completed my walk, giving wonderful views. The walk back to the car finally produced some damselflies and dragonflies. Firstly several Large Red Damsels then a newly emerged (and rather early) Broad-bodied Chasers and finally a Downy Emerald hawing along the tree tops. From Thursley I drove a couple of miles to Frensham Little Pond. I walked from there across the common to the Great Pond and back. On the common I saw a Woodlark singing from the top of a tree. Whilst sitting by the Great Pond I saw my first flock of Swifts of the year.

With the mighty Southend United winning as well it has to be said that the weekend could not have gone any better. It was the perfect Bank Holiday Weekend!

Great walks after work

On two occasions this week I’ve managed to get some great birdwatching done after work. On Tuesday I ended the day in New Milton so I headed to Pennington Marshes. The walk from the car park through the scrubby area produced several Whitethroats and a flock of Linnets. On the foreshore there was a flock of Black-tailed Godwits and there were plenty of Oystercatchers flying noisily over the site. In the saltmarsh I managed to glimpse a couple of Whimbrels, a year tick for me. A Meadow Pipit flew from the marsh and parachuted down a few yards from me. Walking back past the reedbeds a Reed Bunting flew in front of me and I heard a Reed Warbler which after a couple of minutes I finally saw singing from a stem. The most extraordinary thing I saw was a Cormorant emerging from a dive in a ditch with the most enormous Eel which after 5 minutes struggle it managed to swallow whole!

On Wednesday we had a team event in Minstead in the New Forest. As it finished early I took advantage of the sunshine to visit Acres Down just outside the village. this is a well known site for viewing raptors. I spent an hour strolling along the ridge which gives great views over the forest and heath. The only raptors I saw were a pair of Buzzards and a distant bird which may have been a Goshawk but I couldn’t be sure. I fared better with the small birds in the heathland with good views of Tree Pipit, Woodlark, Stonechat and Willow Warbler.

A Blustery Day at Blashford

As it was to be another showery Saturday I went to Blashford Lakes again as it has hides where I could keep dry. As it happens it didn’t rain in the end, it was however very blustery. As usual before lunch I visited the woodland and Iv Lake Hides. They were rather quiet, though I saw a Great spotted Woodpecker and a Nuthatch on the visitor centre feeding station and a female Blackcap along the path. Things improved after lunch. From the Tern Hide I saw dozens of Terns, naturally. There were definitely Common Terns and there may of been Arctic terns in amongst them but I couldn’t find any. There was also a distant Little Ringed Plover on the gravel spit as well as many Sand Martins flashing over the lake. In the trees between the car park and the road I spotted a couple of singing warblers, a Whitethroat and my first Garden Warbler of the year. Numbers 2 and 3 came later on my tour round the reserve. Also seen later were Chiffchaffs and a Willow Warbler. On the insect front I saw several butterflies including my first Speckled Woods of the year. I also saw my first damselfly of the year,. Unfortunately it had not developed its mature colouring making it impossible to identify

As the weather was still pretty good spent a bit of time in the afternoon in the New Forest proper. At Linwood I saw a couple of recently fledged Song Thrushes. I parked up at Ashley Walk and headed to Cockley Bushes. Along the way I saw some lovely small birds, several Meadow Pipits, 2 male Stonechats and best of all 3 handsome male Redstarts, another year tick. So yet another great around Blashford and the New Forest!

Both Ends of the Test Way

Thankfully I appeared to miss the rain that was forecast this weekend and was able to take some nice nature walks. On Saturday I went up to Coombe Gibbet, where the Test way starts, in search of Ring Ouzel and Wheatear, neither of which were around. Fortunately there were plenty of Red Kites flying low over the downland, giving excellent views. A couple of Ravens flew over the southern slope. All along the ridge there were singing Skylarks and some Meadow Pipits, Yellowhammers and Linnets were also seen . After lunch I went in to Hungerford and walked to Freemen’s Marsh. This was alive with singing warblers such as Blackcap and Chiffchaff. I got my first brief glimpse of a Sedge warbler for this year but the best was a Lesser Whitethroat. I was alerted to its presence but its rattling trill and after 5 minutes of searching finally spotted it as it flew between bushes.

Yesterday was not so great for birds, mostly seeing the usuals. However I did find an interesting moth at the security light of my flat. My first ever Streamer, a very attractive Geometrid moth.

Today I went to the other end of the Test Way in Totton. I started off at Goatee Beach, Eling where in amongst a distant group of Mute Swans there was a Black Swan. The bushes and trees around the picnic area held plenty of warblers including my first Whitethroats of the year. I next headed to the Lower Test Marshes Nature Reserve. Walking along the southern boardwalk to the hide I saw very little but coming back there were some little beauties. From one of the viewing screens I saw a Cetti’s Warbler flying into a bush. My best view this year clearly seeing its russet back and rounded tail. This was surpassed a few minutes later as I spotted a bird landing on one of the rails along the boardwalk. I got it in my binoculars to find it was only a House Sparrow but then immediately a second landed next to it, which was unmistakeably a male Whinchat. Lovely! My route round the reserve then took me to the Northern boardwalk where I got a nice view of a singing Sedge Warbler before walking back though the woods where I spotted a Jay, a Nuthatch and a Treecreeper as well as a getting a glimpse of either a Stoat or a Weasel. I ended the day a Testwood Lakes where I saw several Sand Martins and my first Little Ringed Plover of the year. It was also a good day for butterflies with plenty of Orange Tips flying as well as all 3 species of Cabbage White, Brimstones, Peacocks and Small Tortoiseshells.

Warbling in the Spring Sun

I’ve enjoyed another sunny weekend in Hampshire. Yesterday I went to Titchfield Haven Nature Reserve. When I arrived it was high tide and resting on the shingle bank by the harbour there was a small flock of Turnstones and Sanderlings. The scrapes were as usual dominated by the very noisy and very argumentative colony of Black-headed Gulls. However in amongst were some nice waders; a flock of Black-tailed Godwits, resplendent in their copper summer plumage, and half a dozen Avocets. The woodlands and scrub were good for warblers with several singing Blackcaps and Chiffchaffs. I even saw a Cetti’s Warbler flying between bushes, twice. I ended the day with a walk around Hook with Warsash where I saw my first Wheatear of the year, a very handsome male.

Today i went on another of my regular walks from West Down, Chilbolton along the Test Way to Wherwell and back across Cow Common. As with yesterday there were loads of Blackcaps and Chiffchaffs singing, many of them giving good views. The walk ended with my first Willow Warbler of the year singing its lovely song from the top of a birch tree. Whilst on the common I saw a Red Kite flying low at the same time as distant high-flying Buzzard. It was also a good day for lepidoptera. 5 species of were seen, Brimstone, Orange Tip, Peacock, and Green-veined and Large White. I also got a glimpse of an Orange Underwing moth flying up into a birch tree on West Down.

The swallows return

After a couple of brief glimpses of Martins I finally got my first clear view of a Hirundine today as at least 1 swallow was flying around the stables across the road from my flat. Several pairs usually nest there so hopefully this is the first one arriving back for the summer. In other news this week I saw a pair of Blackcaps today on Bury Hill and yesterday my first Orange Tip of the year.