WNF co-ordinates and undertake daytime bird surveys, roost counts, and BTO ringing activities, focussed on New Forest species that are showing rapid increases or decreases at a local or national level. We work in partnership with a large number of local observers, who have expertise in field surveys and ringing. Further details about our current bird surveys, including Firecrest, Hawfinch, Curlew and other species, are provided below.
The Firecrest (and the closely related Goldcrest) are the smallest British birds. Firecrests are one of the most rapidly increasing British species, and the New Forest has traditionally been the national stronghold. We have been surveying Firecrests in the New Forest since 2009; the initial phase of intensive survey work took place between 2009 and 2011, and marked the 50th anniversary of the first UK breeding record of Firecrest at Bolderwood in the New Forest.
Key questions we are seeking to answer include: How many Firecrests are now breeding in the New Forest and how rapidly are they increasing? Do they remain on territory all year, and are they faithful to the same breeding sites? What habitats do they prefer? To answer these questions we employ three main survey methods:
- ‘Constant effort’ breeding season surveys within a 50km2 block of woodland in the central New Forest, focussed on the Bolderwood and Rhinefield hotspots, to provide information on population change and habitat preferences
- Monthly ‘constant effort’ transects focussed on the Bolderwood and Rhinefield hotspots, to assess how Firecrest occupancy changes through the year
- Colour ringing of breeding and wintering birds under BTO and FC license, to investigate site fidelity and local movements
These intensive surveys are supplemented by roving surveys across the wider New Forest area to support population estimates. Other woodland species are also monitored during the visual surveys, particularly Goldcrest as it has the same detection level of Firecrest and is therefore a useful ‘control’ species.
The intensive surveys in 2009-11 were written up and published in British Birds and the 2012 Hampshire Bird Report. The abstract of the BB paper is below, together with a link to the PDF of the HBR paper:
The first confirmed breeding record of Firecrests in the UK was in the New Forest, Hampshire, in 1962. The New Forest has remained a stronghold for this species in the UK and, since 2000 numbers appear to have increased significantly. Here, we report on intensive survey work during 2009–11 and confirm that, with up to 270 territories recorded, the New Forest currently accounts for a third or more of all recorded Firecrest territories in the UK.
Following dramatic declines across the UK, the Hawfinch has been red-listed as a species of high conservation concern. In 2011 the RSPB established a Hawfinch working group (which we were invited to attend), bringing together experts and fieldworkers from across the country to share expertise and resources. During the initial meeting the New Forest was highlighted as a national stronghold for the species, together with the Forest of Dean and central Wales.
Hawfinch is a notoriously difficult species to accurately survey and study, and consequently the dynamics of the population in its remaining UK strongholds remain poorly understood. We have therefore established a comprehensive survey strategy in the New Forest, focussing on the following key methods:
- To find and monitor all roost site locations, to investigate habitat preference and to enable bi-annual population estimates
- To find and monitor nesting attempts within set survey areas, to better understand nest failure rate and the causes
- To attempt to catch and colour ring individuals within the study areas to elucidate Hawfinch movements within the New Forest and roost site/home range fidelity
- To find and map preferred breeding, feeding, and roost site locations to investigate habitat preference across the New Forest
Surveying Hawfinches by finding and monitoring birds at roost is a new method, and so Hawfinch experts from around the country are keeping a close eye on our progress. To date, 21 roosts have been found across the New Forest with many more being worked on – keep an eye out for regular updates via the blog, and follow the link below to download Marcus’ paper on New Forest Hawfinch roosts that was published in the 2014 Hampshire Bird Report.
Recent studies have indicated that the Curlew is rapidly declining in the UK, leading some authors to suggest it is currently the highest conservation priority of any UK bird species. In partnership with other local ringers and birders, WNF are co-ordinating survey work in the New Forest from 2016 onwards to improve our knowledge of the Curlew population and the factors that might be leading to breeding failure, e.g. predation, disturbance, inclement weather. Further details will follow as the survey methods are established and fieldwork commences.
WNF contributes to a number of surveys that are co-ordinated by other local observers, including species that are declining (e.g. Lesser-spotted Woodpecker, Wood Warbler) or increasing (e.g. Goshawk) at a national scale. We hope to feature some of these surveys on the WNF website as guest blogs.