Monday, 23 April 2018

An Aural Amble

Two posts from me this week! I'm just back from a short after-work walk (love these longer days) and simply had to share.

I head out of my road, accompanied by the sound of sparrows, chaffinches, a wheezing greenfinch, and blackbirds. Crossing the road and descending the steep hill, bordered by an overgrown hedgerow adjacent to the neighbouring farmland, I hear a white throat call from the depths of the undergrowth and a yellow hammer 'little-bit-of-bread-and-no-cheese'ing in the distance.

Reaching the Avon Valley Path - which borders the river with its mosaic of habitats - the air really came alive. As well as the blackbirds, shrill wren and chaffinches, climbing over the stile the chorus was suddenly punctuated by a very loud and staccato series of notes - Cetti's warbler singing from the reedbeds. Another warbler was also making its presence felt - the repetitive two-note call of the chiffchaff, with numerous males calling at each other across the valley. The trio of notes from the song thrush, and the alarm call of the robin, were also emanating from the woodland. Finally, the not-quite-so-evocative calls of rooks, wood pigeons and pheasant.

And this was in the course of a 45 minute walk - actually, the first 15 minutes yielded pretty much all of these, and no doubt I missed a few.

No great rarities, but even so, if you know a few calls, it really brings a whole new appreciation to a simple walk. The RSPB website is very handy for checking you've heard what you think you have, so get out there and see how many you can hear in a few minutes!

Hazy Spring Day

It certainly has been a topsy-turvy Spring so far - my photos range from snow to blistering sunshine, and yesterday was no exception.

Given that it was scheduled to be another lovely sunny day, we headed off to Win Green, highest point in Cranborne Chase, and about 40 minutes west of Salisbury. We started at the pretty village of Tollard Royal, parking by the quaint duck pond, and heading up through woodland and farmland to stunning views across a variety of chalk valleys.

At this time of year, although few flowers were visible (apart from some scattered early cowslips), I could see the various intricate forms of the short-turf loving downland species, such as rock rose and wild thyme. It's going to be beautiful in a month or so's time.

Our route took us through patches of woodland too, with the heady scent of wild garlic or ramsons warning us of a magnificent green carpet of their leaves, almost stretching as far as the eye could see in some places. The flowers weren't quite open - it will be like it has snowed all over again in a few days' time! There were also bluebells - their own sweet scent occasionally caught on the wind in amongst the garlic! And of course, lots of primroses, lesser celandines and violets - the British Spring really is one of the best in the world.


Tuesday, 17 April 2018

The squelch

It's rained rather a lot over the last few months, with the result that it's a bit squelchy out there. Of course, this is great for wildlife on the whole, but makes for slower progress on one's walks!

I'm recently back from my Cornwall trip, where epic levels of squelch were encountered on our coastal walks. It's always nice to visit a different geology - lots of granite and clay, making for flashier rivers engorged with water from the land, and greatly enlarged-feet when walking across fields! We did also get great views of the craggy coastline - so different to our more gentle and sheltered Solent coast.

On Sunday, expecting drizzle, we headed off to this coast - this time to Beaulieu in the New Forest. parking for free at the Motor Museum, we walked into the pretty and ancient village and onwards along the Solent Way to Buckler's Hard. We encountered a sign saying 'riverside path unusable - follow cycle path'. Well, having encountered the epic squelch in Cornwall and survived, we felt that we could probably make it.

It was rather soggy/flooded in parts, but the recent dry weather had obviously greatly improved things, so we were able to pick our way through. It was rather quiet, given the sign, which should allow the footpath to recover swiftly, and also had the benefit of allowing us tranquility to enjoy the beautiful setting.

On our walk to Buckler's Hard, the tide was in on this tidal stretch of the Beaulieu River, which flows into the Solent. This meant we had to content ourselves with the views of the various boats, as well as the wildflowers in the beautiful ancient woodland - wood anemone, violet, primrose and the New Forest speciality of narrow-leaved lungwort. There were some wonderful ancient old oaks along the way too.

We unexpectedly dined in the rather posh restaurant (highly recommended!0 due to the pub being rather full of people sheltering from the rain outside, then headed back the way we had come. this time the tide was out, allowing waders to move in to feed on the mudflats and remnant saltmarsh. Indeed, the tidal pool in Beaulieu itself had emptied, allowing flocks of oyster catchers, and the odd shelduck and black-headed gull to probe the mud.

All in all, a great walk, despite the squelch and drizzle!

Sunday, 1 April 2018

Down to the seaside

Last weekend saw two walks of contrasting landscapes and history.

Being passionate about art, we had a delightful mooch around Messums Gallery in Tisbury. Tisbury is a lovely old village west of Salisbury - lots of thatched cottages, old barns and ancient farmhouses. With the Nadder running through it (a chalk stream that eventually meets the Avon at Salisbury), it also makes for a delightful walking spot. 

Our walk took us along the river and smaller streams, over the railway line, and skirting the lower reaches of an Iron Age hillfort. Although early spring, it definitely feels like the flowers are making up for lost time, with the thick bright green carpet of bluebell shoots, and clumps of primroses in flower accompanying us along the way.

The following day, we headed off to meet friends for a day trip to Brownsea Island in the middle of Poole Harbour. Whereas it had been dull, grey and occasionally drizzly the day before, here the clouds were threatening to part and reveal that long-lost light source, the sun.

For those that haven't been to the island, although it is a bit of a faff (drive to Sandbanks, pay for parking, pay for the ferry, pay for entry to the island unless a National Trust member), it's more than worth it for the beautiful views and abundant wildlife. It's renowned for its red squirrels, and also as the site of the first Scout Camp set up by Baden Powell. I remember it well from my guiding days, but the copious clumps of rhododendrons are long gone, as the Trust embarked on a programme of habitat restoration. It's a mixture of pine woodland, ancient woodland, wetland, heathland and shingle coast. In particular, part of the island is managed by the Dorset Wildlife Trust, where you have access to numerous hides bordering a large lagoon. Here we saw shelduck, flocks of dunlin swooping and shimmering around, black-tailed godwit, spoonbill feeding, the odd sandwich tern, and lots and lots of black-headed gulls setting up territories as the breeding season was now underway. Often overlooked, i found their behavious fascinating to watch so close up.

We did spy a few red squirrels as well (including one notable individual obviously not very well and hiding behind a tree right by the footpath), and enjoyed the sun down by on the beach amidst the pottery sherds from 19th century pottery kilns. A wonderful day.

And this weekend we've managed a couple of walks in amongst the deluges, including a trip down to the Keyhaven marshes near Lymington on the New Forest coast. We hadn't realised that the Hurst Castle fort was open, so the walk along the shingle spit was even more worth it - so much to see! I had obviously forgotten my binoculars, but we did squint to see shelduck, red shank, oyster catcher, some lingering brent geese (nearly off to their breeding grounds) and feeding little egrets.

This morning we walked into Winchester via St Catherine's Hill and the watermeadows, making the most of the sun, albeit dodging extremely muddy paths. Tomorrow promises monsoon-like conditions, which will no doubt result in cabin fever. 

Never mind, off to Cornwall and Devon for a few days now

Friday, 23 March 2018

It's supposed to be spring

Just when we thought winter was properly behind us - with the first signs of spring flowers on their way - then another icy blast hits us. We ventured out into the Arctic wastes to Old Sarum, for expected snowy views.

It seemed that this time the snow had clung to vegetation, rather than forming big drifts on the ground. The beautiful forms of snow on branches and ivy were as if someone had been busy with the paintbrush in this starkly monochrome world.

Life appeared to be carrying on as normal - after all, if you've started to build your nest, or are already incubating eggs, you're a bit committed at that point. So the swan couple feeding peacefully on the river as we passed were oblivious to the white landscape around them.

Reaching the hillfort itself, the snow-clad bushes were alive with birdsong, taking shelter from the exposed ramparts. We were able to watch a treecreeper jerking along branches, searching for tasty invertebrates - an unusual site and a first for us.

Ascending the slippery slopes to the top of the hillfort, the wind was biting, so we didn't hang around and quickly looped back around to return home.

Snow is beautiful, but I wonder what the repercussions will be for our birds this year.

Saturday, 17 March 2018

Still snow?!

Last Saturday, with intermittent drizzle, and the understanding that the ground was still going to be rather soggy, we opted for an afternoon walk starting at Garston Wood RSPB reserve.

This is my usual bluebell wood, and although it's way too early for this spectacle, it serves as a good starting point for some walking further afield. We did spot some primroses, but we also spotted - in several points along our walk - patches of snow. It was clear that the Beast had caused significant drifts in places up here - it must have been amazing.

The reserve and wider woodland through which we walked contained numerous fresh green shoots of typical ancient woodland indicator plant species. Lots of bluebells and ramsons (wild garlic) of course, but also the often-overlooked dog's mercury. The route took us through the Rushmoor Estate's lovely ancient woodland, where it is clear much is being done to enhance it, through deer fencing to prevent copious nibbling, to recent coppicing to open up areas for more ground flora. We passed the small fort, which last year I had 'discovered', with the ramparts cloaked in ramsons, and the surrounding land in bluebells. Obviously, this was not as stark today, and actually the uniform carpet of green seemed to diminish it slightly in size.

We also encountered the strange butcher's broom plant - very spikey 'leaves' are in fact extensions of the stem, with the red fruit appearing in the middle of them. Another ancient woodland indicator of our chalky woodland fragments.

The route took us along woodland edges, with sweeping fields and pastures, and ancient sunken droveways with beautiful old oaks and beeches.

It's a wonderful part of the country to explore, and I can't wait to see it at its best in the spring, with a riot of colourful blooms.

Friday, 9 March 2018

The Thaw

It was quite a dramatic thaw, with balmy temperatures causing rapid melting. That said, such was the amount of snow, that even now some icy lumps persist at the edges of fields, representing locations of previously-deep drifts of snow.

Having slogged through the slush into town the day before - not pleasant and tough going - we opted for a less-soggy Sunday potter around Langford Lakes, to see what birds were about. Although very few of interest were, what greeted us was spectacular.

You see, most of the lakes had frozen over with a thick layer of snow during the big freeze, with the consequence that when we visited, much of the lake surfaces were still covered. The rapid melting was producing interesting patterns in the ice, and making for interesting bird access! Our approach to the lakes was also lined with a pretty avenue of diminutive scarlet elf cup fungi.

It was interesting to see how certain lakes had almost completely thawed, whilst others had really yet to get going. I'm putting this down to differences in depth and volume. Oddly, most lakes were devoid of any interesting bird life, bar the odd tufted duck or great crested grebe, instead they seemed to have made way for a Canada geese invasion.

Although their incessant honking was terribly annoying, their antics on the slippery slush were entertaining, and we whiled away many minutes watching them.

Just as well, because that afternoon, our planned additional walk in farmland around Stapleford on the A36 just outside of Salisbury was curtailed through being drenched by a sudden sleety downpour. Time to call it a day until the countryside has properly thawed out!