For years now I have been fascinated and somewhat taunted by Lesser Redpoll (hereafter Redpoll) in the New Forest - most years I come across one or two through the breeding season and promise myself, and sometimes others, that I will do some work on Redpoll, but other fieldwork (normally Hawfinches) prevents me giving it the time it needs.
For a vocal and fairly obvious species, Redpoll are difficult to get to grips with; for a start there aren’t many in the New Forest - estimates based on current records suggest 5-10 pairs, but we just don’t know. They are also very flighty and can cover quite large areas, making them difficult to pin down, and then there is the timing. Here in the New Forest we are spoilt by the plethora of fascinating avian species we have breeding, all of which deserve time and attention. Unfortunately, our spring seasons are too short, and we find ourselves cramming in fieldwork on a range of species into a short 12-week period, meaning that species such as Redpoll often don’t get the focus they deserve.
This year, due to the situation with COVID-19, we have had to curtail much of our planned fieldwork with Hawfinch, and now that restrictions have eased I’ve had the time to put a bit of work in with Redpoll in the Forest. However, I must admit I got lucky - while out in the field looking at some local breeding Curlew I had a Redpoll fly over my head giving the distinctive buzzing song. Returning over a number of days I managed to pin down multiple birds in an area of tall ‘leggy’ gorse close to Brockenhurst, where at least two pairs are attempting to nest. Close-by I have found a further two pairs in an area of mixed carr along a stream, together with a third location also in mature leggy gorse.
Adult male Redpoll in the New Forest this week; this individual was taking a break from an extensive, wide-ranging song flight.
A sound recording of classic Lesser Redpoll song flight can be downloaded from the xeno-canto website via the following link.
On Friday 03 July I was delighted to find an adult male Redpoll feeding two recently fledged juveniles at the carr site mentioned above - this is the first confirmation of breeding in the New Forest for some years.
Looking at records on the HOS database, the last confirmed breeding records were in 2002 and prior to that in 1995, however the HOS breeding bird atlas does have an intriguing record of Redpoll breeding at Burley in 2006. Either way this is the first confirmed breeding attempt for over a decade, although we do have a healthy dataset from previous years that suggests Redpoll have been breeding in the Forest in small numbers for at least the past 25 years. As well as my observations, my colleague Russell Wynn also recorded a singing male Redpoll in suitable breeding habitat at a site in the central New Forest this spring; so it looks like we still have six or more active territories in the New Forest.
First-year Lesser Redpoll
So what next – Redpoll should be conspicuous for a few more weeks so I shall use the time to explore other areas where the species has been recorded in recent years, and if conditions allow we may attempt to colour-ring some of the juveniles as this will enable us to assess recruitment back into the local breeding stock - there is also the possibility that we might get some indication where our breeding Redpolls spend the winter months.
Next year we shall ensure further time is spent working on Redpoll - now that we have established where they are breeding, we look forward to seeing if the same areas are utilised next year. In addition, the search will be expanded to other areas where Redpoll have occurred historically.
If you would like to get involved with Redpoll fieldwork do please drop us a note, and if you regularly visit sites in the Brockenhurst and Burley areas of the New Forest please do familiarise yourself with the song and calls of Redpoll - we would love to hear from you if you come across any in the field.