Read on and experience the beautiful countryside that we look after here at Mottisfont and the New Forest. Written by Catherine Hadler the Area Ranger for Mottisfont and South West Hampshire, this blog will enable you to see the work we do to protect and enhance these places and the importance of drawing people into the natural world.
Wednesday, 2 April 2014
Black snakes and Orange Tips
Days like today are the days I work for, the days I spend
the dark hours of midwinter dreaming about.Warm sun, greenery popping out on every tree and bush, colours twinkling
in your vision from passing butterflies, new flowers and busy birds.From my office I can always see the Pied
Wagtail pair wagging their long tails as they peck among the shop plant display
and the kestrels patrolling the stable yard as they decide where to make start
their nest building.
I found my first tick yesterday happily suckling on my leg –
luckily it was had not had much of a chance to drink its fill of my blood and I
swiftly dispatched it with a pair of tweezers.
'I wandered lonely as a cloud'...sea of Daffodils at Mottisfont.
Blackthorn in flower on the Dun
This is the time of year we take a bit of a stock
check.The winter cutting season has
ended and we roll up our sleeves and look towards the work that summer
brings.We have several projects that
are on for the coming months including the restoration work on the river bank
at Stockbridge Marsh – watch this space.
Last week myself and Ryan led the volunteers in an epic
couple of work days on Stockbridge Down and Marsh during which we got a huge
amount done.Monday saw the entire sheep
flock get treated with Crovect (a spray on treatment to help prevent blowfly
attack).Wiltshire Horns are supposedly
less prone to fly strike due to their short fleeces, but having had two late
attacks in November last year I am taking no chances, and am starting the
treatment from now onwards.Luckily we
didn’t have to rugby tackle and turn the sheep for this – it is just a spray
from a nozzle gun down their back and across their buttocks and its job done.
We also used the tractor and strop to pull out a rotten
gatepost and replace it and the gate with shiny new ones, repaired and restored
a damaged carpark barrier, replaced some of the broken wooden hurdles that
encircle the Bronze Age Barrows and do some other gate and carpark maintenance
ready for the summer season.
Then on Thursday we had the volunteers down on Stockbridge
Marsh at the Southern gate which has always suffered badly from poaching in
winter – being a peat marsh it will always be wet but in winter this far corner
becomes a total quagmire into which only the hardiest of welly wearers will try
and reach the gate.We spent the day
constructing a boardwalk which Ryan designed and the volunteers processed the
timber for.It is made using our own
Larch off the estate and this is left untreated to prevent any toxins leaching
into the peaty soil.Being peat it tends
to preserve the wood quite well so the new boardwalk should last for a good
while yet.The boggy ground around it
should now dry out without the footfall pressure of people squelching through
it and this will enable the grass and flora to grow again in this corner – next
time you are walking the Test way, which runs right past it, take a turn
through the gate and onto the Marsh without getting your feet muddy.
Muddy and well used already - new boardwalk over the Grimpen Mire
Today, April Fool’s day, also marks another big turning
point in our working calendar – it’s the official start of butterfly surveying
season!Across our sites we have a broad
range of habitats and we have various surveys that are conducted including
bats, reptiles, butterflies, birds, inverts, dormice, bio surveys…the list goes
on.Having this information allows us to
monitor the impact of the work we do and ensure that it is having positive
results, not detrimental ones.
butterfly transects cover three sites across our Mottisfont wooded estate and
we have another one on Stockbridge Down.We are also setting up new butterfly transects across our New Forest
sites too, so all in all, we are in for a busy butterfly summer providing we
get the weather.My survey today brought
out all the usual candidates that overwinter as adults – brimstone, peacock,
tortoiseshell – and my first Orange Tip!This species overwinters as a chrysalis and emerges on warm April days –
the male is unmistakable with its bright orange wing tips – and a sure sign
that winter has turned its back.The
females can often be mistaken for small whites as they have black tipped wings
(like small whites) but they do share with the male, the striking underside
colouring of its wing – a beautiful green marbled effect on the underneath of
its lower wing marks it out from small or green veined whites.
The warm weather has also brought the adders out in force
for Matt’s adder project which I mentioned in my previous post.He has caught some stunning specimens
including a whopping female of 67cm in length and 125g in weight – a fair old
chunker.He has also found bootlace
adders (last year’s young) having just swallowed a common lizard and
consequently not able to move very much!
Bootlace adder stuffed full of lizard - we all know that feeling of having overeaten!
I have spent a couple of days helping him and was absolutely
over the moon to spot and catch my first melanistic – black – adder!Right up until the moment I caught it I was
in two minds as to whether it was a black adder or a dog turd (they look
amazingly similar when curled up) but then I saw those gleaming red eyes that
signified that this was notfaecal
matter.He turned out to be male so I named
him Edmund (the only choice for a male Black adder surely…)
Adders like to bask on moss - this one had found a nice mossy cushion this log.
Matt has also caught another black adder on the site – a female
– so there is obviously a small population of melanistic adders in the
area.It would be romantic to think the
two black adders will partner up and mate but I don’t think they are too
bothered about colour matching.However
the males have started their pre mating sloughing of their skin and mate
guarding (where they find a female and ‘guard’ her against other males) showing
that the mating season is almost upon them.The photo below is a fantastic shot of this – Matt saw this group of
male adders all basking and guarding a mossy basking site that he had
previously found a female in – and judging by the presence of all these males
she was obviously still there hiding under the moss!
Fingers crossed we get lucky and witness the males doing
their competitive ‘dance of the adders’ - it’s only a matter of time now…
How many adders can you spot? Males hanging outside the ladies dressing room...