Saturday, 15 April 2017

Seizing the days

What an excellent coincidence - a week off timed with fabulous weather! I had a lot to pack in, but think I did rather well.

The weekend was a jam-packed series of social events, featuring a beautiful walk along the Wilts and Berks Canal from Melksham to Seend for lunch at The Barge Inn. The blackthorn blossom was out, the birds were singing, orange-tip butterflies were on the wing, and we were heading towards lunch - idyllic!

Then, on Monday, with the sun still shining, I headed off to Fritham for a walk with a friend. Deep in the New Forest, it is a hub for various routes through ancient woodland and heathland, with some particularly gnarly old trees along our path.

Tuesday I met up with another friend for walks in Botley Wood and along the Hamble. The former is a large area of mixed ancient and plantation woodland SSSI, with beautiful wildflowers along the rides and glades. It's under pressure from development at nearby Whiteley (on the edge of Fareham), and indeed, some of the (non-SSSI) fields earmarked for housing were a mass of cuckooflower - sad to know they'll be ploughed up in a few months. The bluebells, wood anemones and primroses were putting on a lovely display as we walked, accompanied by chiffchaffs, a nuthatch and various thrushes.

Our walk along the Hamble was a bit of a contrast - the tide was in, suspending the algal mats in the water - they  are a sign of nutrient enrichment and prevent the important colonies of wading birds from feeding. A lot of work is being done to reduce runoff from agriculture and improve sewage treatment, but there is so much more to be done. Despite this, it was good to see some oystercatchers and black-headed gulls feeding, and the various wrecks and mosaic of reedbed and saltmarsh habitat were very scenic.

On Wednesday, I finally managed to get out to Garston Wood - this is my favourite bluebell spot. A small RSPB reserve north of Sixpenny Handley, it can get rather packed at peak bluebell season. I arrived at 10am, with the place deserted. The bluebells were a beautiful spectacle and yet still perhaps a week or so away from their peak. I extended my walk north out of the reserve into other patches of ancient wodland, following the Dorset/Wiltshire county boundary, and encountering the remains of a fort. The ramparts were a mass of ramsons (not yet in flower) and the surrounding land a carpet of bluebells - such a marked demarcation, so interesting to see and no doubt going to be beautiful when the flowers are at their best. I meandered down through part of the Rushmoor Estate, with lots of work being done in their woodlands to open them up - carpets of primrose and wood anemone were the result. I then returned to the reserve, photographing my favourite old mossy stumps and noting the first ramson flowers coming up. Fingers crossed I can revisit in a few weeks for their display. On my drive back I was able to have an excellent view of a red kite flying low over the road adjacent to the reserve - if the walkers I was passing had only looked up, so would they!

Thursday was a day of chores and seeing friends (although I did see another couple of red kits on my journeys!), but yesterday I headed off with my parents to Wherwell in the Test Valley for a lovely couple of walks around Chilbolton Common and Harewood Forest. Although the weather wasn't as nice as previous days, it was still dry and actually the flatter light made for better photography. Our morning walk crossed west down nature reserve - an area of chalk grassland slowly being restored, and where I spotted my first cowslips of the year.

In the afternoon, we headed up into Harewood Forest. It's a large area of mixed ancient woodland and plantation - not a SSSI, it is largely carved up into blocks and narrow strips of woodland bordering arable fields. Nevertheless, pockets of wildflowers remain, although it was interesting to see these bluebells were much further behind than at Garston. There was also evidence of hybridising with the non-native Spanish bluebell - these are the familiar ones in gardens, taller stems, wider leaves, no scent, flowers not drooping on one side, and blue pollen. On our way back I did see my first swallows of the year - a couple perched in a tree looking a bit knackered, unsurprisingly given their mammoth journey from Africa! And again, on our way back we had a fabulous view of another red kite - they seem to be everywhere at the moment. What a brilliant story of recovery.

Fingers crossed the weather continues to hold up for this Easter weekend, as I'm hoping to visit another one of my favoured bluebell haunts on Sunday - Langley Wood NNR.

No comments:

Post a Comment