Following a recent tip off from Nigel Owen, the alarm went off at 0430 yesterday morning and I made way up to a fairly remote spot in the north of the New Forest.
The closest car park is just over 3km from the potential roost site, but it was a pleasant walk in the dark - albeit a little wet. I never use a head torch in order to keep my eyes adjusted, so inevitably stumble through a few unseen puddles. Along the way I could hear Tawny Owl along most of the route, and had the occasional Woodcock pass over on a roding circuit. Most surprising of all while passing through a section of heathland was hearing a number of Stonechats singing their hearts out in the dark.
Once in the general area, I picked a location that looked most likely to hold a communal roost. I have been searching for a roost in this part of the forest for a number of years so know the patch fairly well, but this is a spot that I haven’t checked before.
I was in position by 0550 and didn’t have to wait very long - I heard the first Hawfinch start calling distantly at 0604. I made my way to the spot just in time to see two Hawfinch emerge from Ivy on a mature Oak and fly up to a nearby Douglas Fir where, in typical fashion, they stated calling loudly.
Over the next 15 minutes or so a further 17 Hawfinch emerged from roost from a fairly wide area, gathering in a belt of mature Douglas Fir. The majority of birds slowly dispersed into an area of mature Oak to go about their business. However, a group of five or six remained, and while watching them do their thing I noticed a female Hawfinch gathering lichen from the limb of an Oak. She collected a beak-full then went to join the group of Hawfinch and paraded her stash like a prized trophy for a good four to five minutes, the males paying very little attention despite her efforts. She then discarded her bounty, had a little preen, then proceeded to feed. In all the many hours I have spent watching Hawfinch in the New Forest, this is only the third time I have witnessed this behaviour, a sure sign that this female intends to nest in the area, although we are still a month away from Hawfinch settling down to nest.
Other highlights while watching the Hawfinch was a brief spell of drumming nearby from a Lesser Spotted Woodpecker, followed by the typical "kee-kee-kee" call, and a number of Crossbill in the general area.
This is the 41st roost that we've mapped in the New Forest and is especially pleasing as it is the last piece in the jigsaw for this particular block of woodland. I suspect it will be a seasonal roost, occupied from late February through to September, but I will monitor it regularly to get a feel for the ebb and flow of the roost.
Many thanks again to Nigel Owen for the tip-off!