TRAVELLING NATURALIST TRIP REPORT
July 10th - 13th 2000
Forest Park Hotel, Rhinefield Road, Brockenhurst
Cold NW wind with frequent heavy showers. Some warm sunny periods particularly on Thursday 13th.
Our first outing was to Acres Down on Tuesday morning, a site where the rare Honey Buzzard can sometimes be seen. With the weather threatening to deteriorate imminently we were delighted to see a raptor soaring above the forest. Could it be that we had found our quarry after only 5 minutes' waiting? No such luck, the upward-angled wings and short wide tail indicated a Common Buzzard. Undaunted, we pushed on and soon found a family of Redstarts, unfortunately a one-parent family with the father nowhere to be seen. Nearby was another family, this time of Stonechats and with both parents in attendance. As we were busy admiring the brightest male Stonechat we could remember seeing, a shrill, repetitive song came drifting over the forest. For some time we were unable to locate the source of this beautiful noise. It suddenly sounded closer, then a small, long-tailed shape rose up from behind some Scots Pines and parachuted down out of sight again. This brief view was enough to confirm the songster as a Tree Pipit. Closer views were soon obtained, enabling us to appreciate the bird's neat breast-streaking. This proved to be a useful feature for separation from the numerous Meadow Pipits in the same area.
We were forced back into the bus by a heavy shower and decided to head for the coast. By the time we got to Keyhaven the sun had come out and it had turned into a gloriously warm afternoon. All was going well, we even had a brief view of a Kingfisher on the pond, until we reached the sea wall. Then the heavens opened forcing us to shelter in the lee of a bramble facing the Solent. This turned out to be a good move as within a few minutes we had seen 3 species of terns and 10 species of wader. By the end of the afternoon the wader list had reached a very respectable 13, including Bar-tailed Godwit and Grey Plover, the first time either have been seen on this trip in 6 years.
Tuesday evening brought the traditional visit to Burley Badger Watch where we were treated to close views of 3 foxes as well as the usual badgers. Only 2 of the latter this year as the original family had been ousted by a new pair that had yet to produce any young. Readers with internet access can keep up to date by visiting www.badgerwatch.co.uk.
On Wednesday morning we broke with tradition and for the first time visited a site outside the Forest. Bentley Wood is on the Hampshire/Wiltshire border and is one of the most productive butterfly locations in the country. This morning saw an amazing abundance of Silver-washed Fritillaries and Ringlets, with many other species seen including a few White Admirals.
Lunch was taken in the car park at Beaulieu Road Station in the company of some very tame Chaffinches and, unusually, a female Redstart. The walk down to Bishop's Dyke unfortunately failed to produce the usual Dartford Warblers but as soon as we entered the trees a very confiding pair of Woodlarks appeared on the path yards from our feet. One of the most memorable moments of the week was watching these birds' reaction to a passing Hobby. They recognised the call of the approaching raptor before we did! They stopped feeding and stood absolutely still, crests raised. As the Hobby came over, the larks flattened themselves against the ground, managing to render themselves almost invisible in the middle of a bare path. No wonder they can be so difficult to find!
After dinner we were out again this time in search of nocturnal birds. First was a patrolling Barn Owl at Beaulieu which gave us a series of sadly all too brief views. Next stop was Roundhill where we found Nightjars and, for the first time for this trip, a roding Woodcock.
Our final morning was spent cleaning up on species that had so far eluded us. Top of the list was Honey Buzzard; so we went straight to Acres Down hoping that the rain would delay them until we got there. Unfortunately the rain was so unrelenting that we were forced off the hill into the shelter of the trees to explore some of the many woodland tracks that criss-cross this part of the forest. Honey Buzzards will have to wait until next year. Not having seen any deer yet we headed next to Bolderwood where we were treated to close views of a fabulous group of Fallow stags, all with antlers heavily velveted.
Our final quarry was Dartford Warbler. You can't visit the Forest and not see a Dartford Warbler! The rain confined us to the bus for lunch, but as we finished the last of our smoked salmon sandwiches the sun came out and the temperature soared, bringing out Skylarks and some very frightening-looking horseflies. Walking across the open heath it was not long before we heard the scratchy song of Sylvia undata, or fuzzacker as the foresters call them. The first Dartford Warbler only gave a fleeting view but we soon came across another very bright male seemingly basking in the sun on the top of a gorse bush. As if this wasn't enough, the scene was completed by the scimitar-shape of a hunting Hobby high overhead.
Our week was brought to an end by a delightful half-hour at Hatchet's Pond, in the company of a dazzling selection of Damselflies and Dragonflies, a colourful end to a brilliant week's birdwatching in enchanting surroundings. Who says you need good weather to enjoy yourself!
Birds - 86 species