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.

Wednesday, 20 January 2016

A Frosty Walk in Blackwater Arboretum

Yesterday morning, I met a friend who now lives in Wales but who spent many happy days in the New Forest as she was growing up. It was a bitterly cold morning, with black ice, frozen puddles and a heavy frost. We planned a woodland walk before heading home to warm up again.

We turned off the Lyndhurst to Christchurch road and drove in shafts of sunlight through the Rhinefield Ornamental Drive. Huge Douglas Firs and Californian Redwoods tower over native trees along this narrow road. We left the car at Blackwater car park and crossed the road into Blackwater Arboretum.

The Rhinefield and Blackwater tree collections were once part of the estate of Rhinefield House, a grand old house which is now a hotel. The Redwoods were planted by 1860 and the older Blackwater trees during the later 1800s. 

Both tree collections are now managed by the Forestry Commission. Blackwater is an enclosed collection of trees from across the world. High deer fencing protects them from New Forest deer and ponies. The access gates have been constructed from local trees.

On the top of the archway is a carved wooden bird. 
With some imagination, he seems to be a woodpecker!

A gentle walk took us through mixed woodland. Tall conifers grow amongst deciduous trees.
I last visited in the autumn, when bright acers were in full autumn leaf. Today, delicate shapes of winter branches shone against a cold blue sky.

As older trees have died, new ones have been planted to replace them and to diversify the collection.

Another strange bird emerges from a carved tree stump.

Older branches are festooned with lichen. A sign of clean air.

Several varieties of Eucalyptus contrast their bright, white bark against the evergreens.

We saw a few small flocks of finches among the treetops. In spring and summer, the peaceful woodland and its variety of plants attract many birds and insects.

An elegant rustic gate, high as the deer fencing, allows access to foresters` vehicles when tree work needs to be done.

A dead tree skeleton rising stark in winter sunlight.

Other dead wood is sometimes left to provide food for invertebrates and then, in turn, for birds. These tree trunks were pock marked with holes made by greater spotted woodpeckers.

We emerged from the Arboretum to find a cross roads of Forest tracks. With more time, we would have followed one to see where it went. As it was, we turned towards the sun and let it warm our faces for a while, before a brisk walk back through the trees to find the car. By this time we were cold.

Rusty bracken, warmed by morning sun in a woodland glade, thawed and steamed in the light.

Tall, dense spruces, like giant Christmas trees, stood against a perfect winter sky.

Undercarpets of leaves would say frozen all day.

Even at midday, the winter sun shone low through cold stands of pines.
It had been a beautiful morning.