New Forest Hawfinches – 2017 update

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By Marcus Ward, 09 December 2017

Fieldwork continued throughout the year in the New Forest, with most effort dedicated to roost finding and year-round monitoring, as well as ringing between April and July.

In general, 2017 was a fairly good year for Hawfinch in the New Forest – an average beech mast crop over the winter of 16/17 ensured good numbers remained in the forest throughout the winter period. The breeding season was average at best, but certainly more productive than 2016, though not a classic. A good number of youngsters were recorded both at the bait stations and in the roosts from mid-June. During the second half of the year recording became more exciting, yet challenging, due to the influx of migrant Hawfinch that was recorded across most of the UK. Numbers fluctuated at the new Forest roosts with a peak count of 155 being recorded at one of my study sites. However, a poor beech mast crop will ensure that few hang on for long locally. One of the highlights for me was recording Hawfinch in unusual locations, including my central Lymington garden, Lymington town centre and the Lymington-Keyhaven Marshes, but hard to beat hearing one from my office window in Hungerford, Berks!

The two core roosts at Blackwater Arboretum and Holm Hill were monitored fortnightly throughout the year, while I also got around as many of the other known roosts as time would allow.

 

Summary of Hawfinch monthly maxima at a central New Forest roost over a period of five years
Summary of Hawfinch monthly maxima at a central New Forest roost over a period of six years: note the large influx in autumn 2017

 

I have found five new roosts this year, bringing the total of known roosts in the New Forest up to 29 – I believe I have another 8-10 main communal roost sites to pin down. One roost was unfortunately clear-felled, in Denny Wood. This, the third largest roost in the New Forest, was adjacent to a significant breeding colony with no other suitable roost site for at least 1 km in any direction. Although frustrating, it will be interesting to monitor what, if any, impact this has on the colony and will provide a test case to further monitor the relationship between breeding, feeding and roost site locations.

 

Adult male Hawfinch feeding on black sunflower seed at a bait station
Adult male Hawfinch feeding on black sunflower seed at a bait station (Photo: Marcus Ward)

 

Bait stations were established at three locations across the forest from January. At one site within the core study area in the central New Forest, the first Hawfinch was recorded feeding at bait in late February, but the first to be caught for ringing wasn’t until mid-April. Elsewhere, one of the bait feeders pulled in an impressive number of Brambling but failed to attract any Hawfinch. Meanwhile the third feeder did pull in a reasonable number of Hawfinch, but no attempt was made to catch birds here – lack of ringers available at the crucial time!

I concentrated on ringing at the main study site, managing to get out around three mornings per week between mid-April and mid-July, and catching a total of 48 new Hawfinch including six juveniles. I was typically catching one to three new birds per session, but the largest catch was of seven birds (five new). Trail cameras placed on the bait recorded just short of 300 re-sightings during the period.

 

Adult female Hawfinch feeding at the bait station; note the more subdued colouration compared to the male above
Adult female Hawfinch feeding at the bait station; note the more subdued colouration compared to the male above (Photo: Marcus Ward)

 

Using the cameras, we managed to record monogamy in Hawfinch with one pair (female AH and male AC, recorded both in 2016 and 2017) jointly feeding a freshly fledged juvenile at the bait station.

We have just three records of birds recorded away from Bolderwood: two came via photographers, with an adult female recorded at Mercer Way, Romsey (a distance of 17.6 km) and an adult male recorded in Mark Ash Wood (about 2km from the bait station). The third was a window strike just north of Brockenhurst (around 8km from the bait station); the latter bird was last recorded at the bait 4 days prior to hitting the window.

I have now made the core study site a BTO RAS (Retrapping Adults for Survival) site, and plan to continue focussing all my attention here in 2018, though we will have bait stations established elsewhere and continue looking for a keen ringer to take them on!

 

Adult male Hawfinch 'BC' first ringed on 14th April 2017 and subsequently recorded at the bait station on a further 20 dates up to 26th June 2017 (Photo: Marcus Ward)
Adult male Hawfinch ‘BC’ first ringed on 14th April 2017 and subsequently
recorded at the bait station on a further 20 dates up to 26th June 2017 (Photo: Marcus Ward)