During a week spent in a cottage overlooking the New Forest in Hampshire the morning parade often started with grazing free-range cattle. These would be joined or supplanted by groups of ponies and one morning by a herd of thirty fallow deer, wild and wary creatures which retreated as soon as a curtain was twitched.
The title “Forest” is perhaps a misnomer for in fact it is a fascinating mix of woodland and heath with much of its wildlife peculiar to the area or found in similar habitats stretching into the southwest.
Although this tends to be a quiet time of year for birds, Dartford warblers were still to be found on the gorse bushes of the heath, long tails cocked characteristically upwards. One evening I went out on to the heath hoping for nightjars and, with the light fading, a burst of their unmistakeable churring song was followed by a fantastic display by a pair swooping and chasing low down in front of me.
Exploring the heath during the day we disturbed tiny blue butterflies, male silver-studded blues (pictured), named for the silver centres to the black spots on their underwings. The females shared the underwing pattern but were brown above with orange spots along the wing edges. These exquisite jewels are found mainly on southern heathlands with the New Forest now being their main stronghold.
The woodlands held other butterflies with bramble patches decorated by numbers of big orange and black silver-washed fritillaries, quite a novelty for visitors from Yorkshire where fritillaries of any sort are in very short supply. Oak trees held purple hairstreaks and I found graylings and marbled whites but searched in vain for southern specialities such as white admiral and the elusive purple emperor.
With fewer demands on my time, I could put out my moth trap each night, eventually identifying about 100 species in all, including some with distributions restricted to southern heathlands. Although I find the smaller moths fascinating, it is the big specimens that excite me most. A single great oak beauty, restricted to southern oak woods, lived up to its name but for me the most spectacular were pine hawkmoths which, when gently removed from the trap would sit on my finger vibrating their wings ever faster, like small aircraft revving their engines, before springing into the air and zooming away.