26 September 2017 Talk: Poole Harbour and its Birds by Neil Gartshore

Neil Gartshore is a true expert in his field having worked for more than 25 years in nature conservation including a 15-year spell at the RSPB's Arne Reserve in Poole Harbour, and being author of the annual ‘Birdwatcher’s Yearbook’ and of ‘Best Birdwatching Sites: Dorset’. He came to talk to Lymington & District Naturalists’ Society for our first winter meeting of the season and his topic, naturally enough, was ‘Poole Harbour and its Birds’.

Poole Harbour is one of the largest natural harbours in the world at about 10,000 hectares; it has a double tidal system with two highs close together and just one low which is important to know if you’re thinking of visiting as different species can be seen at various places depending on the state of the tide. Low tide gives small channels and mud flats for feeding waders whereas high tides drive birds to roost for example at Brownsea Island. 

All round the coastline of the harbour is fantastic for birdwatching and natural history in general even though the waters are very busy with many commercial and leisure interests ranging from Royal Marines exercises to kite surfers. This is because the harbour is zoned for different activities which people generally abide by. Both the harbour and some of the surrounding land have a variety of protective nature designations and these are supported by monthly bird counts which have been taken for over 30 years. The data from these counts are analysed periodically to see how species are faring and how usage of the harbour is changing.

During the period from October to February Poole Harbour is one of the most important areas in southern England for wintering waders and wildfowl; it regularly holds thousands of duck such as teal and wigeon, hundreds of Black-tailed Godwit, Curlew, Redshank and Dunlin, as well as uncommon visitors such as Bittern, Whooper and Bewick’s Swans. In summer both Sandwich and Common Terns breed on Brownsea Island, Little Egrets nest around the harbour, about 10,000 pairs of Black-headed gull nest on islands as well as 80 pairs of Mediterranean Gulls which have increased considerably in the last 20 years.

Brownsea Island is the jewel in the crown for Poole Harbour. It is owned by the National Trust but the northern part and the lagoon are managed by Dorset Wildlife Trust. There are several hides for observing the birds and these are a good place to get close to the waders in the winter and the breeding terns in the summer. Brownsea is also well known for its Avocets, beautiful elegant birds with their slender upturned bills, and the regular presence through the year of 30-40 Spoonbills. Although the island is closed to visitors during the winter it’s still possible to spend a couple of hours there by joining a guided boat tour of the harbour many of which allow time on Brownsea.

Spoonbills in flight
Neil Gartshore’s knowledge of and enthusiasm for the birds and other wildlife of Poole Harbour and the adjacent nature reserves left his audience making plans to go there this coming winter season to experience the spectacle for themselves. We were indebted to him for reminding us that such a special and important site is so close to us.

21 September 2017 Tennyson Down and the Isle of Wight

Roamin' in the gloamin?

© Angela Morrell

Not the best day for a trip but seven hardy LymNats joined Angela on a trip to Tennyson Down on the Isle of  Wight.  It was windy and drizzling, and a thick mist descended as we reached Battery Point so the Needles and the Tennyson Memorial were invisible.  

However it soon cleared and we found a good selection of wild flowers of chalk grassland; including three species of gentian - Autumn Gentian (Felwort), Common Centaury, and Yellow-wort and a host of other plants including Clustered Bellflower, Harebell, Lady’s Bedstraw, Field Scabious, Yellow Toadflax, Yarrow, Birdsfoot Trefoil, Teasel, Salad Burnet, Tormentil, Wild Privet, Bell Heather, Old Man's Beard, Black (Common) Knapweed, Stinking Iris and Wild Thyme.  
Clustered Bellflower
© Sandra Peel

Attractive small Banded Snails were climbing around on stems and there were a few fungi including Giant Puffball, Common Puffball, Field Mushrooms and a large colony of Parasol Mushrooms.  Late Swallows were still around and we saw flocks of Meadow Pipits, and some birds of the estuary, Redshank, Black-tailed Godwit, Oystercatcher, Little Egret and both Black-headed and Herring Gulls.  

We even saw a Magellanic Penguin (!) at Yarmouth but I don't think it was a real one!  The steamship Waverley chugged past on her tour of Britain as we left and the sun came out when we got back to Lymington. We'd had a good day in spite of the weather. (AM)
Our penguin on the harbour 
wall at Yarmouth! © Richard Coomber

07 September 2017 Holmsley

13 of us set out on a windy overcast morning in the direction of the demolished Holmsley Lodge and Shrike cottage, where now only a derelict outhouse remains. In the grounds of the cottage a Blackcap was seen along with two Stonechat and a family group of Greenfinches. Numerous Swallows were swooping over the heather gathering together on the telegraph wires and then feeding again, and the heather in this area was particularly vibrate with a mixture of all three species, Ling, Cross-leaved Heath and the dark rich Bell Heather.

Marsh St. John's-wort
As we proceeded down  to a stream and boggy area we found amongst the Bog Myrtle, Lesser Skullcap, Marsh St. John’s-wort and  Devil’s- bit Scabious. After negotiating the stream, ditches and bog we stopped to look at a fallen Scots Pine with Dyer’s Mazegill growing at its base. This fungus is so named because it was used to dye yarn shades of yellow, orange or brown depending on the age of the fruiting body.

We then turned into Holmsley inclosure and followed a narrow path lined with long grasses and full of  Common Fleabane that had gone to seed. On reaching the main track we found Greater Knapweed and Marsh Thistle. The woods were very peaceful with just a few calls of Siskin flying overhead and, the only butterflies seen were Speckled Woods. Along the edge of the damp paths Water-pepper was growing.

After stopping for refreshments we decided to leave the inclosure and take the track that runs parallel to the old railway line towards the Saw Mill. The path here is slightly raised with extensive wet areas on either side. We were surprised to find a large expanse of Marsh Lousewort also called Red Rattle, a semi parasitic plant on the roots of other plants. Here also there was plenty of Common Fleabane, some Marsh Marigold which were flowering and dark purple Betony. The only fungi found here was Amanita citrina.  We then retraced our steps back into the inclosure taking the track to the car park. All along the tracks in the inclosure we kept coming across Dor beetles on the move. 

Finally on reaching the car park, Duncan was waiting, initially he had not been able to find the car park and had decided to try to find us on the walk. Unfortunately our route was not obvious, so he went on his own walk and saw several species we had not seen. The fungi Bleached Brittlegill, Sickener and Wood Hedgehog and, a Small Heath butterfly. (PP with photos © Richard Coomber)

01 Oct Monthly Winter Bird Walk: Maiden Lane

Brian is leading the first of this winter's monthly bird walks this Sunday 01 October. We meet at Maiden Lane (SZ327941) at 10:00. Already some of our winter visitors have started to arrive as well as some storm-driven birds such as the Grey and Red-necked Phalaropes seen by birdwatchers along at Keyhaven and Fishtail Lagoons during the last week or so. Who knows what the next weather system might turn up locally!