Sunday, 3 June 2012

South of England Tour

The last few weeks have been pretty intense in terms of college work with not many opportunities for birding. So last week has been an interesting break and an opportunity for some birding down in the South of England as I went on my college tour for 2012.

We were based in a small campsite called Bishop's Green Farm just South of Newbury in Hampshire and toured throughout the South of England undetaking various site visits.

Day.1 - On Monday morning the first bird I noted was a white bird which looked like it was circling over a nearby field. A check through the binoculars revealed it to be a Tern. Later on in the week I took a walk to check it out and it turned out to be a Common Tern which was fishing in a nearby pond and continued to all week.

Common Tern
Throughout the day various woodland birds were seen and of course my first Magpies of the year. A bird easily seen all over the place down in the England but hard to see in the Highlands back home. There were also two which frequented the campsite throughout the week.

On Monday afternoon I also heard my first Cuckoo on Middleton Estate near Andover but as hard as I tried I just could not see it. I would hear a total of 5 Cuckoos throughout the week which I did not see any but it is a great feeling to know that they are there somewhere.

Day.2 - Tuesday was a whole day spent down near Lyndhurst in the New Forest. I was very excited about this trip as I knew the range the birds I had a chance of seeing. In the morning I saw my first Blackcap of the year with a range of other common woodland birds. Unfortunately being in quite a large noisey group and not moving around through the forest too much I wasn't able to see much of significance. We spent lunch on a  large common which I forget the name of where there were numbers of New Forest ponies all over the place. As everyone was eating lunch I had a look around for a bird I had a good feeling I would find here and not two minutes later I found it, a Green Woodpecker! Another bird which I cannot see back home and one I had wanted to see for awhile. It was feeding on the grass for a few minutes before flying off.

Green Woodpecker - New Forest

In the afternoon as we made our way through part of the forest we came accross an area teeming with butterflies with plenty of Pearl-bordered Fritillary a species I hadn't seen before.

Pearl-bordered Fritillary

In the evening after returning from the New Forest and after something to eat, I decided to have a look round some of the small woodland blocks surrounding the campsite. As I was making my way quietly through the woodland a group of 5-6 birds landed in the trees and started flitting around. A closer look revealed they were Nuthatches! I was so pleased as this is another bird I can't see back home and it was brilliant to see them. It looked like a group of juveniles with their parents.

Day.3 - On Wednesday we had two visits, one to Bathhurst Estate and one to the Nation Arboretum at Tetbury. At Bathhurst in the morning I had a great view of a Great Spotted Woodpecker on a nearby Oak tree. In the afternoon a range of woodland birds were seen throughout the Arboretum including more Nuthatches and plenty of Swallows and House Martins flying over the wildlife meadow they have created there.

In the evening after returning to the campsite. I visited a site I had previously researched called Greenham and Crookham Common which was a 25 minute walk North of the campsite and South of Thatcham. The common was previous an RAF airbase and has been converted back to mixed woodland and heath. I have to admit I did hear several birds that I hadn't heard before and didn't recognise as my song knowledge isnt great. I did however see my first Common Whitethroats of the year, Meadow Pipits, Lapwing, Kestrel, 2 x Green Woodpecker, Skylark and a pair of Stonechat another year first. Unfortunately no Dartford Warbler which I was hoping for and I had to leave before it was the right time for Nightjars but still a worthy trip and the common is really impressive.

Day.4 - Thursday was spent at Langley Wood National Nature Reserve and we were shown around my Natural England's Stuart Hailes who is the senior site manager and he explained some of the woodland management they are undertaking and the problems involved. Also with him was a volunteer Sue who showed a stunning Poplar Hawkmoth which she had caught in her moth trap the previous night on site. Birds were fairly thin on the ground in terms of something special but plenty of common woodland birds singing. The real though were the invertebrates throughout the wood. Plenty of Speckled Yellow moths flying around and I managed to capture this stunning Femal Broad-bodied Chaser.

There were also plenty of Beautiful Demoiselle flying about a drain running through one of the sites that had been previously felled including one that I spotted egg laying in the water.

Female egg laying.
Day.5 - Friday started with some amazing views of 3 Red kites on the adjacent field to the campsite. The grass had been cut the previous day and I suspect they were scavenging for some decapited small mammals.

In the afternoon nothing new was seen or heard in terms of birds apart from a pair of Mistle Thrush and a stunning Brimstone butterfly was seen flapping along a woodland ride and another first for me.

So overall it was a very interesting week, some new birds and year ticks for me but also a lot of new plants and invertebrates I had not seen before and would only get the chance to see that far South. A total of 52 bird species was seen and 8 butterflies plus two moth species I hadn't seen before.

In other news it looks like I will have the chance to undertake part of my degree in Rovaniemi, in Lapland, Finland. Words cannot describe how exciting I am and it hasn't even really sunk in. Apart from all the great things I can see and do the thought of seeing new birds in a new country like Finland is really exciting! And maybe I can complete a lifelong dream of seeing a Great Grey Owl. Still lot's to organise and research but I have been accepted so I will let you know what happens nearer the time.