Despite the fact that I’ve lived in Hampshire all my life, I’ve barely explored the New Forest but all that changed over the long weekend when my friend and I had the fortune of being invited to a dawn chorus even on 4th May, and had already planned a birding trip to the New Forest the next day. In total, I worked out I spent about 19 hours birding over the Sunday and Monday and ended up with 10 lifers(!) and 6 “year ticks”. Can’t think of anything better to do over a long weekend!
Sunday 4th May 2014
Sunday’s 3am start was well worth it. The first bird of the day was a Redstart singing in one of the trees by the car park. It was the first of many Redstarts that weekend and I was still convinced I could hear them when I returned to my flat, but sadly that was just my imagination!
We then walked to the edge of Denny Wood where we stood and waited for the dawn chorus to begin. While we were waiting, we could hear Curlew, Snipe and a Nightjar in the heathland around us as well as a Tawny Owl from somewhere inside the wood.
The dawn chorus is a truly impressive sound and far more musical than a lot of modern music if you ask me! Redstarts, Robins, Blackcaps, Blackbirds, Chaffinches, Wrens, among others, were all singing from inside the wood and were joined by a Cuckoo – my first of spring! In fact, during these 2 days I reckon I saw more Cuckoos than in my entire life! And when I returned to my flat, I was also convinced I could hear Cuckoos, but once again it was all in my head…
The main dawn chorus didn’t last for long, and we then headed off for a circular route back to the cars, stopping numerous times to admire the scenery and birdlife. Pipits, both Tree and Meadow, were in abundance although they were mostly silhouetted against the sun so it’s a good job they were vocal! I also saw my first Tree Creeper of the year, having missed a few earlier in the year on my patch.
We returned to the car park, already pleased with how the day had gone so far, and set off to the next site: Arces Down in the hope of seeing Goshawks and Wood Warblers. After several hours at Acres Down, most sat on the hill waiting for the Goshawks, we were lucky enough to have good views of both species, even if the Goshawks were rather distant at times! We also had a very brief glimpse of a Hawfinch – another “lifer” for me.
Our final site for the day was Bolderwood, in a last attempt to see a Firecrest. We had heard them singing for most of the past 11 hours but had struggled to locate any so far. Thankfully, our luck changed and, just as we were giving up having once again only heard them, one handsome male Firecrest landed on a branch right in front of us! Despite all of the birds we’d seen, this had to be the highlight! (Just a shame we didn’t get a photo…)
Monday 5th May 2014
My second day in the New Forest didn’t require quite such an early start. “Only” 6.30am! I met up with Olly, a fellow Next Generation Birder who took me on a birding tour of the New Forest. We started in Mark Ash Wood, hoping to see the Tawny Owl, but found a Redstart and Hawfinch instead. Tawny Owl would’ve been a “lifer” for me, but you can’t complain about getting good views of a Hawfinch!
Our next stop was Eyeworth Pond, where we saw a Mandarin Duck and 4 Canada Geese, and a Pied Wagtail. The wood by the pond was rather muddy, but worth walking round to see several Marsh Tits and Blue Tits. We could also hear Firecrests, but as usual they were being good at hide and seek.
Martin Down NNR was the next place. It was a lovely and gave us close up views of Yellowhammers and Skylarks. We had also hoped to see Turtle Doves, but there were none today. I did however, get much better views of a Tree Pipit which was nice. Toyd Down was close by so we stopped briefly in search of Corn Bunting and Red-legged Partridges, both of which we saw.
We stopped for a lunch break at Blashford Lakes before entering the reserve. The trees by the reserve were full of bird song. At one point we had both a Blackcap and a Garden Warbler singing close by – very confusing but it did highlight the differences between their similar songs! There were Common Terns flying around Ibsley Lake as well as Swifts, Swallows, Sand Martins and House Martins – very summery! There were also 2 Wigeon present.
Our final stop in Hampshire was Ibsley Common. A Red Kite was the first bird we noticed here – a very nice sighting in Hampshire, particularly in the south! There were several Cuckoo singing, but another more unusual sighting for this Common were 4 Woodlark – another lifer for me. 1 Woodlark would’ve been nice; 4 were amazing!
The last 3 sites we visited were all in Dorset. Firstly the Avon Causeway, on the boarder between the 2 counties where we saw a Little Owl, then Cowards Marsh were we saw 2 Egyptian Geese, 34+ Mute Swans, and a Grey Heron as well as much more…).
Finally, we finished the day with a visit to Stanpit Marsh where we were hoping to see some waders, as we’d seen numerous wildfowl, passerines, Gulls, Terns and birds of prey, but no waders yet. It was high tide, but we did still see Bar-tailed Godwits and Oystercatchers, as well as a group of Sandwich Terns. In total, we saw 78 species during the day, including 7 “lifers” and a further 3 “year ticks” for me, so I ended the weekend on 152 species for the year!