Sometimes the New Forest delivers in bucket loads, other times it don't. This was one of those days. A bright day's bundle around Bishop's Dyke should have been full of 'Attenborough' moments, except it wasn't. In truth it turned out to be a sodden traipse. Apart from five minutes of bliss when a handsome male hen harrier graced the heathland - twisting and turning on a six-pence, handling sudden gusts of wind with consummate assurance in search of prey. All too soon the cameo ended, with a flick of his black wingtips he slipped away over a heather ridge and was gone.
Chosing to ignore the alarm bells going-off in my head, we decided to drop into Soton on the way home. And this leads me to my next life enhancing tip. NEVER, I SAY NEVER go to Southampton on a saturday. It's unwholesome enough going there anyway, but two hours to drive under a mile, only to get to the entrance of the Ikea carpark was beyond bonkers. Then there was the shop itself to contend with. Thank goodness for the harrier that was still flying around in my head, stopping me from going round the bend (well getting round the bend would have been good). All this for a bathmat.
Eventually we arrived back home, only to find a message on the phone asking us to get to Q.A. A&E - which is where we spent most of saturday evening.
Funny ol' day.
Sunday - The boys are back in town.
The day found us back with the harebears - our first visit of the year. To our relief the recent downpours, snow and general malevolent weather hadn't driven them away. Of course they were going to be there, they're hares, they're roughy-toughy (unlike me). The crop had changed (spuds?) and growing fast, but once we got our eyes back-in, we could see that they were occupying the same patches of the field as last year. Six were noted in all, with some indulging in dashing about, but no boxing. Early mornings for us then.
Overhead two kites soared for prolonged periods, giving superb views and the chance to make some rusty sketches with cold hands. Eventually the flask of hot coffee ran out and it's warming effect gave way to the bitter cold.
Snow, mainly white, definately cold and more likely to bring the world to a halt than Mayan prophecies.
A few quick field notes made before the cold put certain appendages in mortal peril.
Portchester Castle. A very smart near complete Roman, Saxon, Norman fortress, with nice church, located along the northern edge of Portsmouth Harbour. Scene of many 1970's Pompey vs Spurs teenage footie encounters and a great place for a New Year's walk to blow away the cobwebs and give the liver a chance to rest.
A few others were also out walking, most attached to leads with dogs on. The light was slate grey and flat, but to our delight the mud exposed by a low tide was wader-filled. Curlew, oystercatcher, dunlin, redshank and turnstone, all busied themselves along the shoreline in search of food, seemingly oblivious to our close proximity.
All the time we walked and watched we were accompanied by the 'cronking' sound of contented brent geese. Also feeding out on the harbour and in good numbers to boot.
By the time we returned, the tide had risen, surrounding the castle on two sides like an invading force of nature. Carrying with it a small group of red-breasted mergansers (a species I had been keen to study last year and had failed miserably). Normally they are an active bunch, prone to energetic bouts of display. Today however the 'tattyheads' seemed content to reflect the flat atmosphere and simply loafed around on the sea. As we watched, an unseasonal sandwich tern made several fly-bys, it made a few unsuccessful plunges into the water for fish before moving on - and so did we.
A life enhancing tip for you. Take careful note...... If you are ever tempted to watch the film 'Knowing' with Nicolas Cage - DON'T! I'd rather poke myself in the eyes with a blunt stick for two hours than endure that load of rubbish again.
'Christmas is coming.
I'm getting fat!
Think I'll take a bite out next doors cat....'
Boy could I do with a long walk in the Forest. I'm going a little stir crazy stuck here behind a desk, catching up on work before the Yuletide hostilities unfold. Not too sure why I am bothering, we're all going to die tomorrow anyway (wonder if I can get a refund on the mankini?). What!
Anyway what I'm trying to say is that whatever wildlife we've seen of late, has been confined to that watched with our noses pressed against the studio/back bedroom window.
A windblasted sparrowhawk posed briefly on a nearby roof before sneakily slipping away. A nuthatch popped in and checked out the birch tree's new haircut, followed swiftly by a jay. So a few bobs and bits to keep us occupied during the mayhem.
Anyway if we all survive tomorrrow, have a great and peaceful Christmas. Oh yes! and the hedgepigs say thank you very much for all the support at last weekends do.
We pulled in behind an industrial unit just south of Ringwood, hoping to gain a view over the River Avon. In front of us stood four people, all sporting chainsaws, looking as if they were auditioning for a part in a Texan massacre! This appeared to be a good vantage point, but did we really want to be extras in a splatter film as well? I do screaming like a girl among the best of them, but certainly wasn't prepared for the running away bit. However, they were only workers on a fag break and taking one look at us armed with our binoculars, they beat a rapid retreated into their workshop - are we really that scarey!
The Avon was in flood and the area amassed with waterbirds. Lapwing, teal and a lone little egret set the scene, though the reason for our visit was nowhere to be seen (not untypical of previous efforts to see this species in Hampshire!). After a while I thought it best not to waste anymore of our lives looking for one and thought it would nicer to have a peek at The Forest. Just as we were pulling away, I noticed a large white heron shape flying behind the trees - definately worth a look. And sure enough striding confidently out in the water was an impressive great white egret. Not quite what we were after, but very nice indeed - not so many years past it would have attracted a much larger gathering than us and the two others that had now joined us.
Whilst enjoying the egret, Rosie suggested I look at something else that had appeared. I recognised the tone in her 'what's this?', as one not to ignore. And there it was, a little way away a glossy ibis. Ok, I know the world and his dog had now seen one in Hampshire, but we hadn't and very smart it was too. Not much larger than the coots it strolled amongst, on first glance it seemed a dull looking bird with a thumping great bill. Yet as it fed, the sun would catch it's feathers and reflect beautiful hues of purple and green. It wasn't easy to work out its age because of the distance, but the fact that it was so richly coloured led me think it was an adult in winter dress. As we watched a kingfisher alighted briefly on the branches in front of us and a green sandpiper quietly (uncharacteristically) flitted by.
By now the sun was getting lower in the sky and with more important matters beckoning - Strictly and 'No More Baboons' (I can't even begin to explain why I call 'Merlin' this!) we headed for home. We hoped that the celeb that dances with the expression that someone has put a stoat down her knickers gets voted out this week, as she hadn't improved much recently - too much gapping, don't you know!.........................................................Oh well, it was the bloke from Westlife, maybe this week!
The rich colours that had recently glowed high in the trees, had now drifted down to adorn the forest floor, letting slip that autumn had passed by and winter was now upon us. Out on the heaths a frost gripped the ling and sparkled white against a moody sky, with the sun battling to burn through dark, threatening skies and warm the day.
We had some bits and bobs to do over at Lymington, and were taking in the ever changing moods of the New Forest at a leisurely pace. There are a few times when there is a sense of quiet solitude in the Forest and this was one to be savoured - along with a warming mug of hot chocolate at a hostelry.
One of the bits we had to do was to check over some panels we had put together for Sturt Pond, Milford. They looked good. I looked over the seawall towards the Isle of Purbeck. Dorset was taking a right pummelling from the weather and was heading our way - time to deal with the bobs and quickly too!
As the hustle and bustle on the Hillhead sea-front began to settle to a background murmur and the light transformed from bright sunshine to a glorious glow, we tucked ourselves away on the canal and watched. Rosie immediately picked-up a flying barn owl in the distance, just before it disappeared, moving further up the valley. A promising start.
We waited. The light drained further, at first casting strong low shadows across the water meadows, the sort that artist's relish and then slowly faded as if someone was turning the dimmer switch down. We resigned ourselves to having only had that one brief view and thoughts drifted to hot soup or something a little stronger, when at the appointed time of four-thirty there she was, right in front of us. And with what light was left to us she peformed. Flying on silent wings as if controlled by a puppeteer,we were treated to a full performance. Quartering the meadow, she twisted, turned and cartwheeled in search of her breakfast.
Our last sight of her was as she landed in a sallow tree, startling a dozing wood pigeon out of its stupor. She slipped quietly out of the back of the tree and into the treacly dark of the night. Time for a toddy.
I had made quick notes and sketches on the spot, watching her constantly making marks without looking at the page. Then when we returned home I put colour to paper whilst the shapes and hues were still fresh in my mind.
Crikey that was almost lyrical for me. Anyway we had the Christmas craft fair at Titchfield Haven this weekend. I would like to thank everyone who braved the weather and came out to support us. At one point on Sunday afternoon there were so many familiar faces there from the past it felt like a throwback to the birding days of the 1980's - I had forgotten how loud they can be, so
apologies for frightening the other stallholders.
'All fungi are edible................once!' I love this quote probably made by a dead bloke!
I don't really know why it has taken so long, but finally we have cracked the mystery to identifying funguses. Essentially they boil down to; fifty shades of brown, pink ones, white ones, bizarre ones and the downright creepy ones - simples. Any further knowledge about them is thoroughly unnecessary and borderline anal. I don't mean it though, I just hugely admire those who have devoted their time to this vast subject. Yet on reflection my method does involve having a life!
Really though that last category is fascinating. During a foray around Rowbarrow in the New Forest we came across what could only be described as a scene from a chainsaw masacre - intestines strewn across a rotting log, surely a goshawk's macarbre execution block. But no. With a bit of poking, prodding (no I didn't taste it!)and research, ie: I asked someone later with a superior knowledge than mine on these matters. It turned out to be a slime mould - 'a slug-like multicellular mass'.
'This mass actually moves (presumably very slowly) to a point that meets its optimum requirements and then it changes shape and form and becomes fixed. This movement means that it does not easily fit into any of the accepted animal/botanical categories!' No kidding, fantastic! Better than entrails any day (my thanks to Richard Carpenter for this info). Next target brain fungus.
On the way to Rowbarrow we spotted a group of stonechats posing and flycatching among the heather. During previous winter encounters, we've frequently noticed Dartford warblers associating with them. We stopped, watched for a while and sure enough there were the Dartfords in close attention with the stonechats(we counted 4 stonechats and 4 Dartfords). When a stonechat flew low across the vegetation to a new vantage point, within seconds a Dartford followed with their clumsy, tumbling flight, before crashing lower down into the same piece of heather. If a stonechat flicked at an insect, a Dartford was soon bundling in after it for a looksee. Normally very shy, on occasions they behaved most un-Dartford-like sitting out in the open on the heather for long periods of time, sometimes high up in birch trees.
I'm not sure what it is all about. Maybe it's a winter safety in numbers flocking thing and these two species are virtually the only ones to be found on the heaths in winter - making it an obvious grouping. The Dartfords would certainly benefit from the stonechats habit of perching out in the open looking for any danger and food (though I thought that Dartfords mainly fed on spiders that dwell deep in the heather and not in the open). But I can't really see what the stonechats get from this relationship. Whatever reasons, it was a pleasure for us to have such prolonged views of these odd couples.
AND, we've been lino cutting again. Which gives me an excuse to put in one of Rosie's lovely prints and to plug the Titchfield Haven Craft Fair - 24th & 25th of this month. Why not come and say hello us at the visitor centre and learn what we are all about!
If you're expecting words of wisdom from Dan and Rosemary you may be sadly disappointed. However, if you want to keep up to date with our current projects then pick up the feed at the top of this column.