critics have labelled the New Forest a disappointment bird wise,
but with enough patience and an idea of where to start looking,
the New Forest can be an extremely rewarding day out. The large
area of ancient woodland and heathland lies between the suburban
masses of Bournemouth and Southampton, and covers approximately
64, 707 acres (144 square miles).
the summer the forest is alive with the sound of bird song and the
bustle of visiting tourists. On a pleasant day, the place is teaming
with thousands of visitors, leaving the birdwatcher wondering what
their chances of seeing anything are in a place so full of people.
However, the forestry commission has organised an excellent system
of well-concealed car parking areas. From any of these, ten minutes'
walk into the woods bring you complete solitude, where you can walk
for hours and not meet anybody else.
the most evocative sound of the broad-leaved woodlands in the summer
is the shivering song of the Wood Warbler. These summer visitors
are fairly abundant in the larger patches of woodland, although
they often can be difficult to spot high up in the canopy. Another
summer visitor that adds a splash of colour is the attractive Redstart.
These birds prefer areas with plenty of dead and decaying trees
where they can find suitable nest holes. A number of other commoner
woodland birds are numerous in the broad-leaved stretches of woodland.
Marsh Tit, Stock Dove, Nuthatch, Goldcrest and Lesser-Spotted
Woodpecker, together with such species as Tawny Owl, Woodcock, Turtle
Dove and Hawfinch (left) can all be found.
mature coniferous forests do not contain such a variety of species;
they do however have their own specialities. In the 1950's the Siskin
became an established breeding bird of the conifer plantations and
in the 1960's the tiny Firecrest was discovered breeding in the
New Forest and has continued to do so. Crossbills and Redpoll are
also a feature, their numbers varying year to year depending on
the success of the seed crop.
of prey can be conspicuous on a warm summer's day. Buzzards breed
throughout the Forest, as do Kestrels and Sparrowhawks. The real
feature of the woodlands however is the Honey Buzzard. These raptors
only occur in a few sites throughout the South of the United Kingdom.
Although they have suffered a recent decline in numbers in the New
Forest, they can still be seen with some regularity at certain sites.
best sites for observing the woodland birds can be found at:
Grounds: This is more renowned as a Deer Park but is contained
in an extensive woodland mass in the North of the forest. Probably
the best place to hunt for Firecrest and Hawfinch.
2) Pitt's Wood: An area of mixed woodland surrounded by heathland
in the West of the forest. Excellent site for Lesser-Spotted Woodpecker,
Tree Pipit, Redpoll and Hawfinch.
3) Acres down: For many years this area has been a well-known
site for watching Honey Buzzards. Goshawks have also been observed
4) Denny Wood: Large area of broad-leaved woodland in the South
of the Forest. Good area for commoner woodland birds, Wood Warbler
heathland is perhaps what the New Forest is most renowned for. The
true specialities of this area are the Dartford Warbler and the
Hobby. The dashing Hobby (right) can be encountered almost
anywhere, but favours the more extensive regions of bogs and heathland.
The New Forest was the stronghold of the Dartford Warbler in Britain
during the 1950's/60's and it can still be found in good numbers
(up to 400 pairs). Its resident nature means its numbers can be
severely effected by harsh winters, as was the case in severe cold
of 1962/3 when less than ten pairs were located. Another bird also
has its stronghold here, the Woodlark. This species inhabits both
the open heaths and the woodland borders and often takes advantage
of patches of heath that have recently been burnt. A number of other
birds frequent the heaths, including Stonechat, Wheatear, Whinchat,
Skylark, Meadow Pipit and Nightjar. The more large-scale, damp bogs
are important wetland breeding sites for Curlew, Lapwing, Redshank,
Teal, Snipe, Shelduck and Mandarin Duck.
The best sites for observing the heathland birds can be found at:
Road Station: Excellent locality for waders, Dartford Warbler,
Hobby and the commoner heathland birds.
2) Ashley Walk, Hampton Ridge and Blackgutter Bottom: Good site
for Whinchat and Hobby and good numbers of Dartford Warbler and
3) Fritham: Good mix of heath and forest can be found here. Whinchat,
Woodlark, Nightjar and Tree Pipit are present, with Mandarin,
Hawfinch and Lesser-Spotted woodpecker. Fritham Plain is also
a good vantage point to watch raptors over nearby woods.
In the winter,
the open heaths and woodland can appear desolate, but this is far
from the case. Woodland species such as Hawfinch and Crossbill are
much easier to locate in the foliage-less trees. The heaths are
regular wintering grounds for a number of Hen Harriers, and Merlin,
Peregrine and Short Eared Owl are also regular. The most exciting
winter visitor is perhaps the Great Grey Shrike. A couple usually
resides on the heath at regular sites at Blackgutter Bottom and
Beaulieu. Jack snipe and Brambling can also be found.
Whilst the New
Forest has a lot to offer, measures must be taken when visiting
to minimise disturbance. The increase in visitors is probably the
most likely cause for the recent disappearance of the Montagu's
Harrier and Red Backed Shrike as breeding species.
Portugal is a marine biology graduate from Aberystwyth.
He lives in Dorset and has been birdwatching around the country
from a very young age. He starts a job with the RSPB shortly,
and begins a PhD in Glasgow at the end of the year.