Wednesday, 10 February 2016

A Winter Feast for New Forest Ponies

Every winter there are tree works as part of the management of the New Forest. The Electricity Board tree surgeons have been pollarding and clearing branches or trees that are growing dangerously near to overhead power lines. Piles of pollarded holly have been left for the ponies and deer to eat.

They enjoy leaves and branches .....

....and the sweet bark of mature holly trees.

A good, thick moustashe helps when eating holly and gorse.

A group of ponies have been following the tree surgeons around, waiting for the spoils of their work.

Strong teeth and tough gums are essential.

Bark is patiently scraped and chewed from logs of beech and holly....

....but the tougher bark of oak has less appeal.

Out in the rusty bracken, groups of ponies are finding sweet shoots of gorse to eat.

By evening, they will have wandered away, leaving the piles of holly and logs to shy roe deer who come to the heathland edge to feed at dusk.

This young pony was looking for her grey mother. Soon they had found each other and joined their family group as the ponies wandered off, through long established tracks across the heath.

Saturday, 30 January 2016

A Walk and Winter Birds at Keyhaven

After so many wet days, we had a drier afternoon on Thursday when we drove down to the coast.
Keyhaven Marshes is an internationally important wildlife reserve to the west of the Lymington River. It is managed by the Hampshire and Isle of Wight Naturalists` Trust.

We walked past the harbour, where small boats sheltered from south westerly winds in the lee of Hurst Spit.

The coastal path eastwards is on the narrow sea wall that divides inland marshes from the Solent sea.

Westwards, across the raised Spit, early storm clouds were rumbling in on the tail of Storm Gertrude, which was already arriving in northern England and Scotland.

Brighter skies still shone across to the Isle of Wight. The lighthouse at Hurst Castle can just be seen.

The salt marshes were still flooded from a high tide. 

A curlew hunted for food on raised marsh near the footpath. It was beautifully camouflaged, but  reflection revealed its presence.

Brent geese landed on water.......

........and pochard sheltered and fed on the edge of the lagoon, on the landward side of the sea wall.

My current point-and-shoot camera doesn`t have a long lens, but the three birds behind the pair of mallard are a male shoveller and two females.

A sun trail from the west.

We walked for forty minutes before turning back. Slate Grey Dog will walk for longer when she has grown up. She was excited by the ever-moving sea, by the biting wind and the calling birds.

Westwards, Hurst Castle guards the entrance to the Solent, against a backdrop of the Island's western chalk cliffs and the Needles.

Eastwards, the sea wall path stretched onwards to Lymington.

Sunlight turned  reeds to gold. They shook and shimmered in a freezing wind. White yacht masts shone on the horizon, moored in the calm of Lymington Harbour.

Walking back past the inland lagoon, we found that flocks of geese and waders had arrived to feed and find evening shelter.

Brent geese, gulls, a flight of dunlin, oystercatchers with their haunting cry........

...and a flock of lapwing too fast to be caught on film.

More flocks and skeins of geese flew towards the shore from inland feeding grounds. 
A cold sky filled with the cries of birds.

Tuesday, 26 January 2016

Down in the Deer-less Deer Sanctuary

A late afternoon walk on a wet and gloomy day. The Forest is waterlogged in many places, so it was good to come to an area where pathways are maintained and where there are sometimes deer to watch in the Bolderwood Deer Sanctuary. New Forest deer are free to come and go in this special area, but the grazing area in front of the viewing platform was empty.

In the New Forest, which was originally a royal hunting Forest for William the Conqueror, there are now four main species of deer :- Red, Fallow, Roe and Sika. Sometimes a little Muntjack can also be seen. 

The notice below explains the changes that have taken place in the deer population over the centuries.

The Deer Sanctuary includes part of Bolderwood Arboretum, which has magnificent Giant Redwoods growing alongside smaller, mixed woodland trees. 

Numerous small streams drain water away from the higher ground, towards the wet meadows.
On previous visits we have seen herds of fallow deer in these protected fields.

A downed conifer with its wild tangle of roots.

Piles of logs are left as insect habitat in the managed woodland glades.
New trees have been planted to replace the old.

There are small areas set aside for families to play and build log hides. 

Young stands of deciduous trees grow in proximity to managed ancient yews.

A yew trunk after rain.

Some of the beeches were covered in a skirt of vivid green moss.....

.....which had attracted hungry deer ......

.....with sometimes disastrous results.
This raw patch of stripped bark was at deer browsing  height. Their teeth had left scrape marks.

 Slate Grey Dog was interested in the sweet smell of beech sap on the damaged trees.

She walks nicely to heel in a controlled space, but can pull strongly when we are out in exciting places.
She is learning to walk in a kind dog headcollar which reduces pulling and she seems much happier wearing it. At seven months old she is doing well and loves her Forest walks.

The light was falling as we walked back along the Forest tracks. Not a deer in sight today. Herds of pregnant hinds and their young from last year are keen to seek shelter in quiet places during late winter. The stags often roam the Forest in bachelor bands. A friend of mine saw three fine Fallow stags last week. They leapt across the road in front of her car as she drove home across the Forest at dusk.