Each year through Jan and Feb I set myself the task of counting all the known Hawfinch roosts in the New Forest. The purpose is two-fold, to check that the roosts are still active and to get a feel for numbers of Hawfinch in the Forest.
As much as I would like to be out every day, work and especially weather get in the way: rain can make it hard to hear the Hawfinch as they come out of roost (the majority are detected on call) and strong wind makes then behave differently, often leaving below tree top height making them equally difficult to detect.
Typical view of a Hawfinch roost, this one near Burley: seven Hawfinch and a Siskin
Through Jan I managed to do a count on 24 days, counting nearly 450 individual Hawfinch, losing three mornings to bird ringing and four to work and weather.
We have built a great dataset, going back up to nine years for some roosts, with some interesting variation from year to year mainly as a result of either emigration due to poor food availability or immigration in those years where the UK sees an influx of Hawfinch from overseas, again in search of food.
Annual Jan totals from two core roosts
Overall numbers are slightly down at the roosts I have counted so far (with a few exceptions of significantly larger counts), suggesting Hawfinch are congregating in a few locations, no doubt where a good supply of food is available.
It’s not just all about Hawfinches - the roosts hold a good mix of finch species. The headlines so far suggest that Brambling have largely moved on after a significant influx in December, and Crossbill numbers are stable with the large flocks recorded in December now broken up, suggesting the breeding season is underway for this early-breeding species. I am also recording higher than average numbers of Chaffinch, but finding Redpoll in short supply this winter.
However we are only half way through – lets see what the roost counts in February tell us!
It's always a pleasure to be out early - dawn at Shave Green Inclosure