Wildlife in my local patch

Hampshire UK

December 4, 2016
by Jackson Hellewell
0 comments

Young Naturalists go to Pennington Marshes

The monthly club I go to, the Young Naturalists, is usually held at Blashford Lakes a Hampshire  & Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust nature reserve, but this time we went to Pennington marshes to do a bird survey and look at what we could see.

Pennington Marshes consists of salt marshes, mudflats and small pools separated from the sea by a man-made sea wall stretching from Keyhaven to Lymington. This area is a perfect stopping point for migratory wildfowl and waders and also a permanent home for many animals.

In all we saw 74 different species of birds over the 3 hours we spent there. The list included;  a Peregrine Falcon, a Great White Egret, a Gold Crest, Pintail, 3 Spoonbills, Mediterranean gulls, Marsh Harriers, Dartford Warblers, Brent Geese and so much more.Great White Egret

Other than its size a simple way of distinguishing a great white egret from its smaller cousin, the little egret is by the colour of its beak. The GWE has a striking yellow beak whilst the LE has a black beak.

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Below is a blurry long distance photograph of a large flock of golden plover and lapwing also in there (somewhere) is a ruff, a bird that seemed to never stand still. On the reserve there were also other large flocks of birds like dunlin, redshank and even a flock of Knot which I was thrilled to see.

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Unfortunately we also encountered a deceased juvenile Brent goose that had probably fledged this year on the Taymyr peninsula, in northern Siberia and migrated all the way to the shores of Britain only to die for no apparent reason, predator or illness, right by the path at Pennington marshes. Luckily the Brent geese population is doing well this year but some years not one juvenile has been spotted in the British isles.image

There were about 20 Mediterranean gulls in amongst the black headed gulls. This one was bathing and showing off its white primary feathers.

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Wild Sweden by Canoe

September 9, 2016 by Charlie Hellewell | Comments Off on Wild Sweden by Canoe

canoe-svartalven2If your idea of getting away from it all is to immerse yourself in total wilderness for a few days, then look no further than a spot of self-guided Canoeing in Varmland, central Sweden.

This summer I joined my husband and two adventurous teenage sons on a 4 day / 3 night canoeing safari on the Svartälven (Black river) in Varmland. We drove to Gunnerud from Stockholm in just over 5 hours and a short while later we left civilisation behind as we pushed off from the river bank in our two Canadian-style canoes.  The Svartälven is a system of accessible and navigable rivers and passageways, interconnected with small lakes passing through an area of outstanding natural beauty.

It was late in the day when we finally started paddling but in northern Europe in the summer it never really gets fully dark and we had plenty of time to find ourselves a suitable camp site. We were spoilt for choice but eventually selected a picturesque spot on a promontory at the side of the lake overlooking one of many little islands.

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Wild camping

We chose to have our trip provisioned as we were new to Sweden and didn’t want to waste time shopping for unfamiliar food, but you can of course bring your own tucker for the trip. We knew there was nowhere to stop and shop over the next few days during our canoe tour so we had to be totally self sufficient.  We had plenty of food and all the relevant equipment for wild camping and cooking on stoves. In Sweden as in other Nordic countries the public have access to the outdoors through the right to roam and freedom to camp anywhere they like for a couple of nights in the wilderness and there is certainly lots of opportunity and space to do this.

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Consequently we could camp or stop for lunch or a swim wherever we liked over the next few days as long as we met up at the prearranged pickup point at the end of the tour. Obviously this meant a certain amount of paddling a day to cover the distance but we found it wasn’t difficult and probably could have done substantially more than was required. We were provided with “portage” wheels for the short distances where it was necessary to go on land between river and lake but we only did this twice and it was no further than a few hundred metres at any point.

The weather was definitely on our side with clear blue skies and sunshine most of the time and as we set our own pace we could glide peacefully through the beautiful forest settings.  The reflections on the rivers and lakes were stunning and we were constantly aware of the insect and bird life around us. There were huge hawker like dragonflies zooming past as well as the more dainty demoiselles and brightly coloured damselflies darting amongst the lily pads and flowers.  We were in sparrowhawk territory with the sometimes dense forest meeting the river or lakeside. We heard and saw many sparrowhawks but getting photographs as we paddled proved to be a challenge. We were being careful with most of our electronic equipment in dry bags most of the time which didn’t allow for much spontaneous photography.

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Beavers

There was plenty of opportunity to explore the interconnected tributaries of the rivers and we were determined to see beavers while we were there. Evidence of their presence was everywhere with gnawed logs and “lodges” (collections of wood covering numerous underwater holes in the riverbank) interspersed freely along the river’s edge.

Our quiet patience was rewarded on one evening excursion up a tributary when we saw a beaver ahead of us with just its nose visible swimming from one side of the river to the other. As soon as it became aware of us it dived, slapping its tail to create a huge splash and disappearing from sight. We were lucky enough to see this behaviour three times that evening but were also bombarded with mosquitos so hurried back to camp and our welcoming fire to excitedly discuss our sightings and plans for the next day.

beaver-lodgeAlas our adventure soon came to an end but we all felt that we had discovered a new aspect to the beautiful sights that Sweden can offer and felt determined to return once more to have another go, but for longer next time.

Purple Emperor at Straits Enclosure, Alice Holt Forest

July 12, 2016 by Jackson Hellewell | Comments Off on Purple Emperor at Straits Enclosure, Alice Holt Forest


This Sunday I visited Straits Enclosure in hope of spotting the elusive Purple Emperor. Luckily enough it was sitting in the middle of the path apparently eating some very old fox/dog scat. It stayed there long enough to allow me to take some good photos but then it flew away shortly after I arrived. We watched it floating around in the tops of the oak and hazel surrounding the path. It settled in the tree tops a few times and soaked up the sun for a while. It didn’t come down to the path again for long though.

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It was far bigger than all the other butterflies that were around and seemed to be a much more powerful flyer.

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Before I saw the Purple Emperor there were other great butterflies on the bramble flowers like white admirals, ringlets and commas and along the way there were little frogs and toads crossing the path.

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There were many commas and ringlets flying about. It seems to be a good year for both species.

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I was surprised at how many white admirals there were at straits enclosure; three or four at a time! I had considered them as being quite rare but there seemed to be a few around.

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Small baby frogs and toads were crossing the path whilst we were on it.

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Home Farm, Burkham – Woodland Trust

July 7, 2016 by Charlie Hellewell | Comments Off on Home Farm, Burkham – Woodland Trust

home-farmIt’s astonishing how quickly wild flowers can take hold if they are given the right conditions to flourish. This is certainly true of the open pasture at Home Farm in Burkham near Alton, Hampshire.

The 300 acre site was purchased by the Woodland Trust in the early 1990s and has since been planted with thousands of broad leaved trees such as oak, ash, beech, cherry and field maple interspersed with hedgerows and pastures.

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A large portion of the site was originally planned to become a domestic landfill site but with the help of a substantial donation from Lord Sainsbury, the Woodland Trust was able to purchase it and manage the land to the benefit of visitors, landscape and wildlife.

Now, more than twenty years since the Woodland Trust first took ownership and following their effective land management plan the site is full of life and a delight to visit.

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A walk following the mown paths across the meadow in June or July displays the beautiful diversity of grasses and wildflowers. Skylarks have taken hold in the meadow and along with the yellowhammers provide a constant soundtrack to a visit.

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This morning I wanted to linger in my walk as there were butterflies everywhere, basking in the early sunshine. Marbled whites seem to do very well here and particularly favour the field scabious at the meadow edges.

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The Woodland Trust have done a fantastic job with Home Farm and should be commended on creating a beautiful place to visit as well as a developing habitat for a variety of wildlife.

Bass Rock and Craigleath – Gannets and Puffins

June 8, 2016 by Jackson Hellewell | Comments Off on Bass Rock and Craigleath – Gannets and Puffins

Over the half term holiday I’ve been staying in a lovely little town in Scotland called North Berwick. North Berwick is the nearest town to the world famous Bass Rock –  the iconic volcanic structure jutting above the sea. Just 20 years ago the island’s white top now stained with both gannets and their guano was only partially covered with birds. But recently more and more gannets have come back to the rock so that it has almost got to the stage where soon there will be no more room.

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The boat trip allowed you to get very close to the gannets but the choppy sea made it difficult to take a picture. The one below is probably one of the best as you can see the creamy colours of the gannet’s  plumage and the brilliant blue ring around it’s eye.

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Not only did we go to Bass rock, but we also got to go to Craigleith, a nearby island with puffins, guillemots, razorbills, cormorants, shags and fulmars. There were many of these birds nesting on the island.

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Craigleith. Another picture demonstrating the difficulties of taking a picture on a RIB.

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A very cute picture of a puffin sitting in the water.

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Gannets sitting on poo-stained rocks.

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More guillemots.

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The sheer number of gannets in the sky was mind blowing. Most of these were mainly juveniles socialising whilst all the adults were on the ground breeding.

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This plant below has been a real problem on islands such as Craigleith. It is called tree mallow and it is an invasive species that is a real threat particularly to puffins; as their roots block up the burrows the puffins use for nesting. In the picture below you can see a bit that was inaccessible so was left. You can see its size compared to the cormorants to the left of the picture and why it poses such a great threat.

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Luckily for the birds there are volunteer groups and projects like SOS Puffin run by the Scottish Seabird Centre that help try and get rid of the plant. Every year teams of volunteers cut back the invasive mallow so that there is room for the birds to nest.

Tawny Owlet in Nesting Box

May 23, 2016 by Jackson Hellewell | Comments Off on Tawny Owlet in Nesting Box

Very exciting news, the tawny owl box that I made with my Grandpa and put up in the woods in January 2015 has tawny owl chicks! I couldn’t have been more happy.

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I only found out so recently because there is no camera inside or outside the box, so when they poked their heads outside it was a great surprise! The chicks downy fluff is very interesting. It is great camouflage for  moss and lichen and other nest materials. This coat of feathers would be moulted for a new set of adult feathers.

tawny-owlet2I have only seen two but there may be more inside as the average brood of a tawny owl is 2-3 eggs. They already seem to be able to climb out of the box and look at the outside world. This will be very useful when it comes time for the owlets to fledge. I’ll post more updates as soon as I can.

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May 23, 2016
by Jackson Hellewell
Comments Off on Water Voles at Titchfield Canal

Water Voles at Titchfield Canal

Yesterday afternoon we went for a walk along the canal at titchfield which leads to the reserve there. We were really lucky to see a lot of water vole activity there.

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Not 20 meters down the track we saw a water vole happily munching on some vegetation on the opposite side of the river. It seemed unfazed at the people walking by.

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onthe way back we saw this one swimming back and forth across the river with bits of reed and grass it seemed to be making a nest in side the closest river bank. water-vole-swimming

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I spotted this jay sitting on a post and displaying similar behaviour to a flycatcher; flying a few meters from its perch to grab a fly and then land in the same spot. When it landed with a dragonfly in its mouth  I realised it was doing exactly that but with a much bigger prey.

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There were many Banded demoiselles flying around the canal this one stayed in one place long enough for me to take this picture.

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Yo could hear the Greater Spotted woodpecker chicks in one of these holes in the tree next to  the path.

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April 25, 2016
by Jackson Hellewell
Comments Off on Winnall Moors Nature Reserve

Winnall Moors Nature Reserve

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At the weekend we visited Winnall Moors Nature Reserve in Winchester.  Its such an oasis of calm and wildlife in the midst of a city (less than a mile from Winchester High Street). We hoped to see kingfishers and water voles but they weren’t showing while we were there. The warblers were in fine song however and we sat for quite a while in the sunshine at the pond area surrounded by reeds and the reed warblers. I managed to get a photo of one.

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Marsh Marigold at Winnall Moors

April 18, 2016
by Jackson Hellewell
Comments Off on First Cuckoo, bluebells and goshawk

First Cuckoo, bluebells and goshawk

Heard my first cuckoo for this year on Saturday whilst on a bike ride. Its great to hear it again.

The bluebells in the wood are looking (and smelling) amazing now. I’ve been trying out an experiment with my trail camera and the bluebells. More to come later.

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Also saw the goshawk again yesterday. This time it was riding a thermal over the woods opposite our house with some buzzards which was good for size comparison.  I tried to get the camera on it but it was too far away and too high up.

 

Chiffchaffs officially back in my patch!

April 7, 2016 by Jackson Hellewell | Comments Off on Chiffchaffs officially back in my patch!

Although I have heard 1 or 2 Chiffchaffs a day for the last week or so I don’t call them ‘officially back’ in my local area until I have seen one and heard a lot more per day.  On Saturday I  heard at least 12 when I was on a cycle ride and so I am now officially saying they are back in my patch. chiff-chaff

Also I have seen another summer migrant in and around my local patch, the Swallow!   I have seen a couple now, hopefully more and more will be arriving soon and they will start to nest. They seem to be very early this year,  probably another side effect of the weird winter that we had, the first time I spotted one this year was the 31st of March!

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