Parish Nature Notes for January - John Wright

Last year I wrote about some of the plants and animals seen on Great Ovens Heath through the seasons, although in reality I attempted detailed recording of plants, butterflies, dragonflies and birds etc throughout the Parish. In 2012, the second year of our Sandford heritage Project, I plan to continue with this rather ambitious undertaking, with help from other enthusiastic naturalists within the Parish. Hence, as the year progresses, I will be reporting on a few of my observations each month to encourage readers to enjoy the varied wildlife we have all around us.

After a mild start to the winter last December, January 2012 continued in the same vein and within the first day or two of the New Year I had noticed over twenty wild plants in flower. Admittedly, many of these had continued flowering through the autumn and winter due to the lack of severe frosts, but one plant, common whitlowgrass, had also started to flower in a sheltered road in Sandford. This diminutive member of the cabbage family, often only 5 cm high, normally starts flowering in February.

Common Whitlowgrass

Common Whitlowgrass

Photograph: John Wright

Within the first week of the month several birds were singing, including the crossbills in Morden Bog and Wareham Forest, dartford warblers on Great Ovens, goldcrests and a tree creeper in Wareham Forest and even a chaffinch managed the first half of its song. Great spotted woodpeckers could also be heard 'drumming' on hollow trees and two in Morden Bog were clearly responding to each other. In the agricultural fields just east of Wareham Forest, both skylark and woodlark were calling but not yet singing and one morning I came across a loose group of 4 roe deer crossing an open field.

Roe Deer

Roe Deer

Photograph: Ken Dolbear

A circuit of Morden Bog on the 8th January, another mild day, produced pig-like squealing from water rails deep within the bog and a mistle thrush was delivering its powerful song. More unexpected, a red admiral butterfly was sunning itself on the track. Until quite recently, this butterfly was thought to migrate south again in autumn or die in the winter in Britain, but in recent years it has become clear that some individuals do survive in southern England.

Water Rail

Water Rail

Photograph; Ken Dolbear

Over the next two days further apparent signs of spring appeared as the warm yellow flowers of lesser celandine were seen locally and a blackbird started singing in our garden at dusk. The song thrushes have been singing intermittently since late November, but blackbirds are normally heard from around late February.

Lesser Celendine

Lesser celendine

Photograph: John Wright

Morden Park Lake, near the northern limit of the Parish, normally has coot, little grebe, cormorants, mallard, gadwall, tufted duck and sometimes additional species of duck when the temperature drops, but a visit in mid-month produced a single great crested grebe. Last year a pair bred sucessfully for the first time in many years.This individual was still around at the end of the month so we must hope that it may soon be joined by a mate.

Great Crested Grebe

Great Crested Grebe

Photograph: Ken Dolbear

A week later I encountered a female hen harrier sailing over an agricultural field just east of Wareham Forest. These scarce overwintering birds of prey are always a thrill to see but their numbers remain worryingly low as a result of persecution on their northern breeding grounds. On the same walk I saw flocks of redwing and fieldfare taking holly berries from the bushes which still retain much of their abundant crop. In a cold winter the bushes are often stripped bare by late December. In contrast, this year more signs of spring included hazel catkins lengthening by Morden Park Lake and snowdrops in flower in the the abandoned garden of Decoy Cottage in Morden Bog.

Snowdrops

Snowdrops

Photograph: John Wright

Holton Lee provides access to the Wareham Channel in Poole Harbour where ducks including wigeon and red-breasted mergansers were on view and a lone overwintering greenshank loafed on the shore near a flock of 50 redshank. On the same day (22nd) I heard a chaffinch manage the full version of its song.

Greenshank

Greenshank

Photograph: Ken Dolbear

The next day, after attending a Sandford Heritage talk in the evening, I came across not one but two foxes crossing the A351 within Sandford in the space of just 200 m, a reminder that this is the mating season and that foxes commonly occur in close proximity to us.

Fox

Fox

Photograph: Ken Dolbear

As the month came to a close temperatures dropped, but west of Sherford Bridge there was still plenty to see. A buzzard sailing over woodland was pestered by a peregrine, ravens appeared in twos or threes, a dartford warbler was singing within Morden Bog and several pied wagtails together with a grey wagtail picked insects from the sewage filter-beds at the northern limit of the Parish just south of Snail's Bridge.The name 'grey wagtail' hardly does justice to this, the most elegantly plumaged and long-tailed of our wagtails.

Grey Wagtail

Grey Wagtail

Photograph: Ken Dolbear