Poor old Gilbert is getting restless. Despite the fact that there is more interest in wildlife than ever before, it seems that most of the so-called conservation organisations are losing interest in species. Instead they prefer to babble on about landscape scale conservation and ecosystem services (whatever they are). Could this be because most of their staff don't have any knowledge about species if they don't have four legs?
This is my attempt to encourage an interest in good old-fashioned natural history.

Sunday, 30 June 2013

Brief highlights

Two very long days with 3.5 hours sleep in between, plus another long day in prospect tomorrow mean that I don't have the energy to write much, even if I could come up with anything vaguely coherent, so just a few notes on highlights from the last couple of days.

A new Wood Warbler nest with 5 eggs found on Saturday - this was the female that I saw apparently prospecting for a nest site on the same day as 'Espanol nest'. It will be interesting to see if they hatch in synch. This nest will be called 'Nursie' as part of an occasional (and utterly incomprehensible to most readers) Blackadder theme. Also made significant progress on pinning down a couple of other nests which will hopefully be located when I can next get to the Forest.

A brood of two Nightjar chicks ringed this evening (two chicks is normal for Nightjars). Quality birds with attitude!

 Conversation of the week:

- I hate Small Heaths
- Why?
- What have they got going for them?
- Well they are better than Meadow Browns
- Yeah, but at least Meadow Browns know they are crap!

Thursday, 27 June 2013

Welcome back DBY512

Two long and busy days. Amongst the plants and insects, I still have photo's to sort and specimens to identify so I'll limit myself to an avian update.

In my last posting I mentioned how 'The Widower' has reappeared and that I'd spent some time looking for his nest without success. The following morning I went to have another look and there was a male singing about 50yds up the track from where the Widower had been. But he was singing constantly like an un-mated bird. I went to have a look at him and he has colour rings! He is ring number DBY512 and was ringed as an adult on 3rd July 2011. In 2012 he was sighted outside my study area (but still within the New Forest) at Burley New Inclosure. This year he has not been seen at all prior to this sighting so I'm sure he's not been within my study area. I'm also sure that he wasn't there the night before. Another new arrival was singing by the entrance gate where a pair lost their nest to an Adder last year but there have been no Wood Warblers at all this year and I'm pretty sure he's an overnight arrival as well.

DBY512 is the only bird so far that has been seen outside my study area and is also the only colour ringed bird that has been reported to me by someone who isn't involved in the project, apart from the bird seen by a visitor from Hertfordshire that was reported in a previous blog. There must be hundreds of birders visiting the New Forest each year to see Wood Warblers, are they all blind or is it just that they cannot be bothered to report colour rings? I'm sure there must be lots more of my birds somewhere in the Forest and it would be fascinating to find out where they are.

One new nest has been found 'Espanol nest', so named because that territory was used last year by 'Spanish female' - a bird with a strange call. She only has 3 eggs which is pretty poor but not unprecedented for a repeat clutch. Last year, Spanish female really went through the mill, with the camera showing that the nest was almost trodden on by a pony and a Fallow Deer, had a Badger walk within inches on the nest and a Fox hop over it! All this and then she was finally predated by a Jay. This years nest is somewhat better sited and I hope she has a more peaceful time of it.

Cameras have been put on Whitemoor nest and the nest with no name / Dirty Den nest (the jury is still out on his infidelity!) and the battery was changed on Fallen Cedar nest. All are ok. There are other things to discuss about Wood Warblers but this is turning into War and Peace so I'll move on to other species.

This morning I ringed the five chicks in the Blackcap nest that I found by accident the other day.

The nest is in a Holly and is poorly hidden from below but hopefully better hidden from above.

 Yesterday evening I visited 'my friends in the north' to ring three broods of Woodlarks. It would have been four but one had recently been predated. The parents were still alarming at our presence but the nest was empty and they were not carrying food. One nest was particularly well hidden.

So far this year I have ringed 27 Woodlark chicks, this time last year I'd done 109 and there was very little difference in effort between the two years. Interestingly, I ringed my last Woodlark chicks of 2012 on 27th June. This year we still have a number of nests with eggs.

Stonechats have also been hard hit this year but we checked on the brood ringed on 17th June yesterday and they are still in the nest. They must be at least 15 days old and really should be out and about by now but I don't think there's any problem, they're just too lazy to go!

I also got an update on the Nightjars. Out of five nests found, two have been predated but the others are ok and we looked at one nest where we could see hatched egg shells just behind the sitting adult. We think the chicks are quite small as when they get bigger you can usually see heads poking out from under the female so we left her undisturbed and I'll have another look on Sunday.

Tuesday, 25 June 2013

The lifer that came to me

Yesterday I ended up going to Duncton Hill to see if the Drab Looper colony is surviving. I found one fresh individual in weather that wasn't great for seeing them so that's good news. Management that is proposed for the site by the estate that own it, together with the South Downs National Park, should ensure that the colony thrives in future. A few other things of note included both White Helleborine and Bird's-nest Orchid (again!) in areas that I've never seen them before. They must be having a good year. I also found the larval case of Coleophora follicularis on Common Fleabane and larvae spinning the terminal leaves of the fleabane and also St John's-wort. Neither larva fits the described species for these foodplants so they are presumably something horribly polyphagous. I'll have to breed them through to find out what they are.

Coleophora follicularis larval case
On the way home I stopped at Chichester Gravel Pits where I saw a moth that was almost certainly new for me; Endothenia nigricostana which feeds on Hedge Woundwort. Unfortunately, like an idiot, I wasn't carrying my net and I failed to get it in to a pot. A return visit is in order.

Back in the New Forest this evening. I found a new Wood Warbler nest within about 10 minutes - Whitemoor nest. She has 4 eggs. Nests at this site never seem to do very well and this one isn't in a great place so I wanted to get a camera on it straight away but the batteries for the monitor were flat. Aaagghhh. You'd think that such a high-tech bit of kit would have a battery low warning light.

The nest is dead centre, between the two bracken fronds. Things are never as obvious in a picture as they are to the naked eye so if you can see anything on a picture it tends to mean the nest is not well hidden.

Flushed with success, I tried various other pairs / males but without any further success apart from refinding a couple of males that had 'gone missing' in recent weeks. One in particular was pleasing; 'The Widower'. Regular readers will recall a pair where the female was colour ringed and I found the nest just after she'd started building. I went back a week later and the nest was finished but there was no sign of her and he was singing strongly, as he continued to do for the next few weeks. Well it looks like it's paid off for him as I heard alarm calls this evening. Of course, as he isn't colour ringed I cannot be sure that it is him but I will assume that it is as it pleases me to do so!

While I was in that area a flat fly landed on me. At first I just tried to swat it but they are tough little beggars and generally the only way to kill them is to crush them between your thumb nails! So when it returned I grabbed it and was just about to crush it when I noticed that it was too big for the Lipoptena cervi which is normally found on deer and is the one that commonly lands on humans, so it went in a tube instead. I have now keyed it out as Hippobosca equina which is a bit of a mega as it is only found in the New Forest these days. As it's name suggests, it is normally found on horses - nice to know the New Forest ponies have a use beyond getting in the way of traffic and stinking!

Finally I went to check on Wet Ditch nest which would hopefully have fledged today. Sure enough the camera seems to show that they fledged some time just before 11am today. I'm really pleased as the nest was so well positioned that they really deserved to succeed, it's just a shame that they only got three chicks away from the original six eggs. That isn't the end of the story though, at 5.26pm this was recorded by the camera:

As at least one of my readers struggled to identify the Badger image the other day, this is a Grey Squirrel! Now you could say this is just coincidence and it might be but last year we had more than one occasion when squirrels visited Wood Warbler nests after the young had fledged but we've never had this with any other predator. It starts to look like more than a coincidence but I cannot explain why this would happen.

Sunday, 23 June 2013

The soap opera continues

There are some people in this world who think they know everything. I met one of them yesterday but we'll skip over that episode. There are some people who think that I know a lot about Wood Warblers. In occasional moments of stupidity I think that I know a bit about Wood Warblers. Then there are days like today which prove unequivocally that I know absolutely nothing.

The first half of the day was utterly fruitless. Almost all of the birds that I looked for had vanished and all I had to show for my efforts was a Blackcap nest with five 4-day old chicks that I found by accident. The only Wood Warbler I found (apart from Wet Ditch pair which are still ok) was a male that I know has a mate - or at least he did have two weeks ago. I watched him for an hour and he just sang. Not full song so maybe he still has got a mate but surely she would come off to feed at some point within an hour?

I moved to the next location along the track, where I thought the male possibly had a mate. Sure enough, as I arrive, alarm calls. I get on the female and she's colour ringed. I note the combination but concentrate on finding the nest before checking the combination. She has four eggs which is fairly typical for a second attempt. Then I check her colour rings and ..... she's the successful female from Log Ditch nest! I know that failed birds divorce and often try again with a different male but I've never known this to happen with a successful female before. Is it because she only reared two chicks? Is it that the male can look after just two chicks on his own? Did the chicks die soon after fledging? The one think I do know is that she's picked another good site. It is protected on one side by a fallen Western Red Cedar

and the nest is well hidden under thick moss and an old dead branch in front of the camera. This will be called 'Fallen Cedar nest'.

A hundred yards or so down the track where there had been an apparently unmated male and again I hear alarm calls. By the time I get round the back of some dense trees, the calls seem to be coming from further in to the wood so I track them and there's a colour ringed male with a female. I never got a 100% positive ID on the colour rings but he appears to be one of the young from last years 'Hatching' nest and this is the first time I've seen him anywhere this year. The apparently unmated male that had been in this area was definitely unringed! I eventually find the nest and she also has four eggs.

I walked back to the main track and just where I originally thought the alarm calls were coming from, there is 'Son of Hatching nest' alarming again, and so is a second bird. So is he actually 'Dirty Den' with two females? It's not clear because there is a brief interaction between the two birds and one heads off fast back towards Fallen Cedar nest while Dirty Den heads off to the nest I've just found. So was that an interaction between the two males? If it was, why were they both alarming when I was a long way from either nest? As I said at the beginning, I know nothing.

Unfortunately, I did get one thing right; my fear about the chances of Barbeque Tree nest. Sure enough it has been predated and I guessed what the predator was from the state of the nest. I'm sure none of you need any help identifying this one.

The time on the camera is accurate and is surprisingly early.

Friday, 21 June 2013

A bit of everything

My thanks to Steve and Sarah for offering their thoughts, albeit perhaps tongue in cheek, about the mystery image. Bit surprised not to have received any thoughts from Investigator Bob. Bob, are you out there?

So what do I think? Well I can see a raptor, a large raptor, and it pretty much has to be Buzzard or Goshawk. That then leaves open the question of whether it took the female or just caused her to desert. Would a Buzzard be quick enough to catch her? Would a Goshawk bother with such a small snack? I've neither seen nor heard any Wood Warblers in this territory since (although this year that isn't anything particularly unusual) but if she was killed why isn't he singing? Perhaps they are the pair at Wet Ditch nest which is nearby but there was already a male in that area. So many questions.

As I said in the last posting, there's been another predation. Skydiver is no more. For some reason I wasn't as gutted by this one as the others, perhaps because I didn't really expect it to survive; they never do in that area and it wasn't very well sited. For a change, this one wasn't a Jay and it wasn't an Emu either, although you can see the resemblance from the first image.

I reckon this image can only be of a fox.

Fortunately the female fled the nest less than one second before it appears in the first image.

I have similar concerns about the location of Barbeque Tree nest but today they were still progressing nicely, the parents are quiet and careful about returning to the nest in the presence of a predator (me!) so you never know. Wet Ditch is also still ok, parents and chicks ringed today, they just need to survive another four days.

Fieldwork in the New Forest should be a delight shouldn't it? Well it does have it's down sides, what with the midges, mozzies and ticks (had one on my neck on Thursday morning - lovely), I now have bites on top of bites on top of bites. Just to make me feel better, another predator (of me) has emerged this week.

This is the horsefly Chrysops viduatus. Did you think there was only one horsefly? As the Churchill dog would say........ Fortunately the bigger species (Tabanus sudeticus is over an inch long!) don't seem to ever attack humans and it's mainly Haematopota pluvialis that is a pest in the south (plus other species in that genus further north) but in wetland areas there are also species in the genus Chrysops to contend with. They are very attractive but if anything they are more persistent and annoying than the usual ones.

Yesterday evening I went to investigate 'hundreds of Broomrape plants' reported by someone at work. They were actually Bird's-nest Orchids but an impressive sight nonetheless.

There were also quite a few White Helleborines in the area, a new species for me.

Also new for me was the moth Lampronia luzella which stubbornly refused to be photographed but looks quite similar to a dark-headed version of L. capitella which I wrote about a couple of weeks ago. Another moth that I saw caused some difficulties with identification, stumping two of the countries top microlepidopterists until a chance comment by the Sussex County Recorder took me to the answer; Cochylidia rupicola.

The local Ethmia dodecea was also seen.

I even took notice of a spider (for perhaps the first time ever!). It was initially identified as Heliophanus flavipes but this was later corrected by Martin Harvey to H. cupreus.

Finally, I got a new species in the form of Liposthenus glechomae which makes these impressive galls in the leaves of Ground-ivy.

Thursday, 20 June 2013

Wot? No comments?

Come on you spineless lot! No-one willing to stick their neck out and put a name to the mystery image from yesterday? Anyone think it's a Polar Bear? No? Ok, well that's a start, let's see if we can get a bit further. I'm not expecting a definitive answer, just a straw poll of opinions.

I'll leave todays predation image until tomorrow. From the first picture I thought it was an Emu......

Wednesday, 19 June 2013

Woodie update and a challenge

Quick check round various nests this evening plus checking camera images from others produced the following results. Started off at Druggy nest but when I was still 30 yds away I was greeted by both adults carrying food and alarming, I couldn't understand this as the young shouldn't be fledging yet but I found two huddled together on the ground under some bracken. I've never seen them on the ground after fledging before and I reckoned there was a good chance that something had disturbed the nest to cause them to go prematurely. Sure enough...

As you can see, this is at 11.29am today and it only seemed to get one chick. The Jay returned at 11.34 and 11.51 and 14.03 but didn't seem to get anything so hopefully five of the six got away.

I checked Fir Twig Tent which should have fledged and the nest was empty but the camera seemed to play up yesterday and I will need to spend some time searching for them to be 100% sure they got away. I also checked up on Wet Ditch nest which I feared would be empty after the six eggs was reduced to three young. The signs weren't good, male singing nearby, nothing moving around the nest when I watched from the car for a few minutes but when I went to the nest, out came the female! Still three young.

Checking nest cameras from previous days confirmed that Bridge nest was successful. It's not often that the cameras pick up the actual moment of fledging.

So on to the challenge. Regular readers will remember that Repeat Wood nest failed due to apparent desertion of the six eggs and that when I set up the camera I didn't have enough batteries for the monitor so I'd had to just point it in roughly the right direction and hope for the best. I didn't bother to look at the images for a while as I didn't expect anything of interest but I was wrong. The following images may reveal why the nest was abandoned. The area you should look at is top left.

So what do people think the images show? I have an idea but I won't influence people by saying what I think at the moment. Last year we had some images of a mystery predator and opinions didn't even agree on whether it was mammal or bird so I'd be really interested in all comments on this. As the camera wasn't aligned properly, the nest is actually very close to the mystery 'object'.

Monday, 17 June 2013

The big switch around has started

After the disappointments of Friday I found it hard to motivate myself to get back to the Forest and so I only got in a few hours on Saturday. Skydiver nest was ok and I installed one of the now available nest cameras. Druggy nest was also ok and I ringed the chicks and female (the male already being colour ringed). Finally I went to change the camera battery on Wet ditch nest. Unfortunately 6 eggs have produced only 3 young and there is no sign of what happened to the others. A check of the camera images shows nothing obvious although with over 10,000 images I did have to scan through them fairly quickly. It is always really annoying when something like this happens and the camera hasn't detected anything, especially on a nest like this where the camera is really close and picks up every movement of the adults. Whether any predator will return for the remaining three chicks will be revealed tomorrow.

It was nice to see that one of the adults was checking that the camera was working properly......

Sunday was a bonus day as it was predicted to be a wash out but in the end there was just very light rain for an hour late morning. I wanted to get around as many as possible of the males / pairs that I hadn't visited recently, in the hope of finding more nests. It started well with a new nest 'Barbeque tree' (as someone has very kindly dumped all their barbeque equipment in a hollow beech tree nearby) which had five young and one egg. It is just possible that the final egg will hatch but I suspect not as I reckon the young were about one day old.

I moved to where the adjacent male had been. Quick burst of song and there is the pair. All looking good but over the next half hour she visited various spots on the ground with him in close attendance and I'm sure they are a new couple and that she was prospecting for a nest site. I saw exactly the same thing with another pair later in the day although she seemed keen on one particular spot which I'll check again in a couple of days.

The (colour ringed) male from the predated Goshawk wood nest has moved to the adjacent wood and was singing strongly in the morning, indicating that divorce had taken place (as it often does after predation) and he was seeking a new mate. However he was silent later in the day so maybe he's still with her. Interestingly, the place he's moved to already had at least a male (and possibly a pair) earlier in the year. No idea what's happened to them.

I spent some time looking for a male that was reported to me by a visiting birder from Hertfordshire. He had photo's of the bird which was colour ringed but the right leg was in shadow so the colours couldn't be seen. It was however not a bird that I'd seen this year so I was keen to find it. Using his map I reckoned it was a bird that I'd heard briefly a couple of weeks ago but hadn't seen. Before I got to the site I heard a 'new' bird singing strongly and sure enough it was the colour ringed bird. It clearly was another bird that had failed in its first breeding attempt and had moved and was now trying to attract a new mate. It gave me the run around for about an hour before I finally got a decent view of it's right leg. It was ringed as a breeding adult in June last year about a kilometre from where it is now. It was the male at 'Tame Robin nest' which sadly fell victim to a Jay family just before they were due to fledge.

Other bits and pieces from Sunday: Larch brash nest had had the last nestling taken as predicted but Bridge nest and Hawfinch wood nest both appear to have been successful (although I haven't checked the camera images yet). I also saw a couple of Prochoreutis sehestediana - a moth I've only seen once before. Both were sitting in buttercup flowers by wet ditches (the larvae feed on Skullcap and Lesser Skullcap) but both were extremely uncooperative in front of the camera.

Today I was stuck in the office but in the evening I went to ring a brood of Woodlarks near Fleet (found by a couple of nest recorders who aren't ringers). A nice healthy brood of four with a back up of a brood of Stonechats (even rarer than Woodlarks this year) and two broods of Redstarts. The guys tell me they have quite a few Nightjars on eggs at the moment so hopefully there'll be some cute Nightjar nestlings on the blog in a couple of weeks! Finally I called in at Odiham Common to see if the Forester moths had finally emerged. After wandering around the meadow for an hour I gave up and headed back to the car, only to have a Forester fly past me. It was even less cooperative in front of the camera (shot off, never to be seen again!).

Friday, 14 June 2013

Slaughter of the innocents

It all started so well. Over the last few days I've checked all the current Wood Warbler nests. Three times loser and Log ditch have both fledged successfully (albeit just two chicks in the latter). Fir twig tent, Hawfinch wood and Bridge nests were all ok and the latter two should be fledging imminently. Then it started, Wagtail nest had been predated:

Next on to Crossroads nest where the male was singing - never a good sign.

Ford nest was ok but only had four young now. A quick skim through the camera images didn't reveal anything but I'll look through them more closely in due course. Skydiver now has 5 young 3-4 days old and one infertile egg. Larch brash has just one nestling left, I don't have a camera on this one as I'd run out of cameras and this one was very close to a path anyway so I don't know what has happened but I don't expect there to be anything left tomorrow.

Finally I went to check on Sneaky, which should have fledged by now. Afraid not.

This was at least interesting in that the squirrel had left the wings and legs and this may be useful if I don't have access to nest cameras in future. You may be able to see some of the remains below.

To finish on a more positive note. I saw these two just-fledged Garden Warblers

They clearly couldn't fly yet so they got their bracelets.

Thursday, 13 June 2013

Great end to a bad day

I so want to write about how a certain institution that isn't very good at rowing at the moment has probably caused the UK extinction of a species. But Gilbert cannot afford to be sued at the moment so I'll hold fire until I have further information and move on to events later in the day but rest assured that GWG will haunt this organisation until the truth comes out.

I called in at Crab Wood near Winchester this evening to see how the UK BAP Drab Looper is faring at the site. Drab Looper feeds on Wood Spurge and there was a plentiful supply in areas that have been recently coppiced.

Sure enough I found a few Drab Loopers fairly easily, despite the weather not being ideal. Sadly they wouldn't pose on the foodplant for nice pictures so this is the best I can do.

I was in no rush to get home so I wandered around the wood for a couple of hours. I nearly trod on this:

I caught several Eulia ministrana - one of my favourite moths as it looks so like dead gorse flowers. Quite why is hard to understand as it has no association with gorse and is often found at sites like Crab Wood where there is no gorse.

I was pleased to find this nice Greater Butterfly Orchid in one of the clearings,

but the highlight for me was undoubtedly this moth.

It is Olethreutes arcuella - a species I've wanted to see for many years, for fairly obvious reasons!

Tuesday, 11 June 2013

Too good to last

It couldn't go on forever and the first Wood Warbler nest has been predated. No surprise who the culprit was.

This was Goshawk wood nest. What are the Gos's up to? They should leave those tough old racing pigeons alone and have some nice fresh Jay for dinner. Nevertheless it is still a remarkably good year so far, I checked on Crossroads, Wagtail, Fir Twig Tent and Larch Brash nests yesterday morning and all were ok. In the evening I went to Sneaky nest to ring the adults and young and they were also ok. Hopefully the change in the weather won't adversely affect them.

After doing the Wood Warblers I headed back to Browndown to have another look for White Spot. No luck with that, the best moth seen being Yellow Belle but I did stumble across the very rare and stunning Starry Clover Trifolium stellatum.

Sunday, 9 June 2013

Wood Warbler update

Took a couple of days leave to try to get to grips with what all the Wood Warblers were up to. They are still proving to be really hard work but the most remarkable thing is that I still haven't lost any to predation. In 2011 they did ok at the egg stage but got hammered at the nestling stage then in 2012 they got hammered from day one.

New nests found in the last few days are 'Skydiver' (named because the female parachutes down to the nest from high up, rather than dropping from a low perch) which had 6 eggs when found on Friday; 'Three time loser' (in a territory where the pair last year tried three times and never got as far as the eggs hatching) which had 5 young about 9-10 days old yesterday, they only need to survive another 3 or 4 days and they'll have made it; 'The Druggy' (named because the males song is so weird he must be on drugs! I saw him in early May and thought his bizarre song may have been because he'd just arrived and needed a bit of practice. I went to check what he was up to and sat there for a couple of minutes before I started thinking 'I wonder what that strange bird singing down the slope is', then 'it can't be that Wood Warbler can it'. It was, but that shows just how odd it is - even when you know you're looking for an odd sounding bird you still don't realise what it is. The best I can describe it is like a cross between and Great Tit and a Coal Tit, possibly with a bit of Marsh Tit thrown in for good measure.

I'm amazed that he's managed to attract a mate, and a mate of the correct species as well! Anyway, she had 6 young, just hatched.

Today has been singularly unproductive. I found one new colour ringed bird; the male from 'Christmas nest' last year - one of the last of the year and one of the very few that was actually successful. I remember he gave us a real run around before Alice finally found the nest, well he hasn't changed his habits as I spent over an hour watching him and got absolutely nowhere! Otherwise there was a lot of walking around searching for new birds (none found), outing out my last nest cameras on Hawfinch wood, Bridge and Three Time Loser nests and colour ringing the adults at Three Time Loser and Fir Twig Tent nests.

Gilbert's brother came to the Forest today to photograph various birds. As well as getting the superb Wood Warbler images above, he visited the Redstart nest and got the following images.

The bird of the day for him though was the Woodcock below that we saw at the side of the road early in the morning. By the time we had gone and got his camera it had moved further back and became rather uncooperative but he still managed to snatch the following image - well worth the early start and the best views I've had since another bird by the roadside in Scotland about 10 years ago.