3rd September A group of us went on a field trip to Cowards Marsh in Christchurch to look for wetland birds, but on arrival it was still flooded to walk over, even wearing wellingtons. The view from the gate using binoculars and scope only showed Heron, Cormorant, Canada Geese and three Bar-tailed Godwit. We were hoping to see a Cattle Egret, 22 had been reported seen here four days previous but they had gone. With nothing much to see we decided to visit St. Catharine’s Hill, this 174ft hill with spectacular views of the Avon Valley, the Isle of Wight and Christchurch Priory, I was hoping to see the Crossbills that are often seen here. And I must mention that anyone with an interest in archaeology, that the hill does have earth works i.e. a Bronze Age farm enclosure and banks of a Roman fort. There is also a Reservoir here that provides Christchurch and West Hampshire with 4,000,000 gallons of water, and its walls have become a canvas for local artists. There are no stunning works of art to be found here but it does brighten up what would otherwise be dull walls. The woodland here consists of mainly Maritime and Scots pine, we searched these trees hard for a Crossbill but none were spotted or even heard. There were several Goldcrests and Nuthatches, but no (Loxia curvirostra) they probably heard us coming. There was quite a large group of us, too many in fact, I must try and get here earlier in the year when the Crossbills are nesting.
After exploring the hill we decided to visit Iford Meadow to search for late flowering wild flowers. Listed are the flowers we found in order that they were discovered, Persicaria (Polygonum persicaria), Fleabane (Inula Britannica), Gypsywort (Lycopus europaeus), Purple Loosestrife (Lythrum salicaria), Water Mint (Mentha aquatic), Bindweed (Calystegia sepium), Spear Thistle (Cirsium vulgare), Water Pepper (Polygonum hydropiper), Yarrow (Achillea millefolium), Hoary-Willow Herb (Epilobium parviflora), Orange Balsam (Impatiens capensis), Figwort (Scrophularia nodosa), Comfrey (Symphytum officinale), Fleabane (Inula britanica), Hop (Humulus lupulus), Common Centaury (Centaurium erythraea) Teasel (Dipsacus fullonum), and Evening Primrose (Oenothera erythrosepala). Goldfinches would have a field day with the amount of thistles growing here that had gone to seed.
17th Not having been there since 2011 we decided to join a group on a field trip to Upton Heath to look for Marsh Gentians. The path that would take us to these wonderful flowers is but a narrow track, uneven wet and slippery, why mountain bikers find it exciting to ride here I do not know, it is hard enough walking let alone riding a bike. After a long trek negotiating puddles and deep gullies there were many steep steps which had to be climbed if we wanted to see and photograph (Gentiana pneumonanthe). Once at the top it was a matter of searching the heather for this erect hairless herb. We eventually found it hidden among the heather and, as its l Latin name implies, they really are gentian blue. After a rest and everyone had photographed the flower at every angle possible it was time to make our way back along this hazardous path once more.
We noted the leafless parasitic plant Dodder was in flower clinging on with its threadlike reddish stems to its host gorse and heather, also the beautiful little Heath milkwort. This low growing plant with its 5-6mm blue sometimes pink or white flowers is so easily missed. One of the party found an ant mimic (Myrmecoris gracilis) a “what” you might say, yes there is such a thing, this is a bug that feeds on aphids and dead ants and has taken on the guise of a black ant and it really does look like an ant making it easy to hunt its prey among other ants, isn’t nature wonderful? The heath also produced Dartford Warblers, Stonechats, Wheatears, and several Ravens fighting of annoying Carrion Crows, a Buzzard and a Heron. The corridors leading to the heath produced Hemp Agrimony, Old Man’s Beard, Wood Sage, Self Heal, Centaury, Scarlet Pimpernel, White Marsh Thistle, Herb Robert, Lesser Burdock, Black Nightshade, and Asparagus. Fungi – Fly Argaric, Blusher, Orange Waxcap. Not a bad morning apart from tired legs.
27th Long-tailed tits are with us once again, a small group of a dozen visit our garden every September to feed on fatballs coated in seed, their main diet of insects and larvae being harder to find on cold dull days.
30th Dunyeat’s Hill – while doing a casual survey I accidently flushed a Woodcock from an overgrown ditch where it quickly rose with considerable noise of wings and calling “tsiwick tsiwick” then quickly disappeared into a distant woodland. I discovered a new colony of Formica cunnicularia, probably founded by a single queen, the workers are very red, and look like Sanguinea but this nest is situated on open ground and made of dead heather fragments. Sanguinea does not make a mound nest but prefers tree stumps or large stones; I have also found them under reptile refugia.