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Wild New Forest April newsletter

Hawfinch season underway in the New Forest

April marks the start of the Hawfinch fieldwork season, a much-anticipated time of the year, although preparation starts in February, by April we should be moving into core part of the fieldwork. This year, our 13th year studying Hawfinch has been an unusual one, mainly because of the poor mast and holly crop in the New Forest, a lot of Hawfinch appear to have moved outside of the Forest in search of food. We have heard of good numbers of Hawfinch (along with other finches) frequenting parts of the Hampshire and West Sussex portions of the south downs, especially in areas of Yew.

This graph shows the January count at a central New Forest Hawfinch roost over the past 12 years clearly showing the annual flux, this trend closely follows the trend of annual abundance of natural food (in the New Forest Beech, Holly & Yew). Interestingly the trend for other species which share the roost (Siskin, Chaffinch) is broadly similar while a complete absence of Brambling this winter following a small influx in October 2022 is also most likely related to food availability.

From early April Hawfinch should be returning to their breeding grounds to start their long courtship, our research has found that Hawfinch are very site faithful and often monogamous over successive seasons. Hawfinch wont start nesting until the Oak and Beech start to leaf in late April/early May, using the new leaf cover to hide their nest sites. The nesting season is very short with as little as four weeks from laying of eggs to fledging, this combined with the secretive nature and generally inaccessible nest sites make the monitoring of Hawfinch nests very challenging.

Hawfinch, central New Forest, April 2023 © Wild New Forest

This year the survey will be focussing on colour-ringing in the central New Forest with outlying bait stations, rigged with high resolution trail cameras to enable us to track movements across the New Forest. In addition, we will aim to find and monitor as many nests as possible. We also plan to focus on the post breeding period, in recent years breeding productivity of Hawfinch has been good but data collected to date suggests that young disperse from their natal areas over the winter period, possibly soon after their first moult. We have little data on post breeding dispersal of young Hawfinch and their survival rates, one possible cause of the national decline of the species could be related to survival of 1st year Hawfinch. We know from ringing data that once they have made it through their first year their chances of survival are good so we will be putting extra effort in looking at dispersal and survival of young Hawfinch over the next few years.

Young Persons Wildlife Camp

Wild New Forest will be running another young person’s wildlife camp over the weekend of 29-31st July 2023, based at Cameron’s Cottage, RSPB Franchises Lodge. Kindly sponsored by the Cameron Bespolka Trust, applications are now open for young wildlife enthusiasts aged between 12 and 18. We will be running a range of activities including bird ringing, moth trapping, mammal camera trapping, bioblitz, fieldcraft and advice on career progression. This year we are fortunate to have some of the best naturalists in their field working with us, places are limited, the application form can be downloaded here.

What to look for in April

April is a great month to be out and about in the New Forest, this month we should hear our first Cuckoo of the year and see Swallows and House Martins settling back into old haunts. In the woodlands we will start to see Wood Anemone and Wood Sorrel adding some much needed colour while out on the heaths species such as Petty Whin and Lousewort should be more obvious with a background soundtrack of calling Curlew and Lapwing. Fungi can be hard to come-by but milder conditions combined with spring showers might encourage emergence of fruiting bodies while colourful slime moulds such as False Puffball and Wolfsblood should be fairly obvious.

Wood Sorrel © Wild New Forest

March walk highlights

March was a busier month for guided aided by periods of settled weather, we managed to seven scheduled walks, eights private bespoke walks, two photographic masterclasses and three boat trips. Highlights included two memorable photographic masterclasses run with Steve Laycock. Although the weather was far from ideal, we were fortunate to have some showy Spoonbill pose for prolonged periods to enable us to experiment with camera settings.

Spoonbill, Photographic Masterclass, March 2023 © Wild New Forest

Lesser Spotted Woodpecker featured heavily in walks through the month with one memorable walk seeing six individuals, the spring birdsong walk was productive with most of the target birds heard included an obliging Lesser Spotted Woodpecker and some rather tuneful Woodlark. The young persons walk this month was at Needs Ore NNR and produced a great mix of species including a smart male Wheatear and Spoonbill.

Beaulieu River boat trips produced a mix of species, the change of seasons here is noticeable with clear reduction in the numbers of wintering wildfowl and waders while the Brent Geese were especially flighty and unsettled. As always, a great mix of raptors were observed including some showy Goshawk and Marsh Harrier along with plentiful Buzzards along the whole stretch of the river while the Seals continue to entertain on most trips.

March fieldwork

The traditional start of the survey season, March is always a great month to be out and about. This month saw the start of the Pine Marten survey which dominated a number of days both in the field and behind a computer screen. This year we are in the central New Forest area, the first change of memory cards revealed multiple records of Pine Marten, two records of Polecat and at least one Otter. We still have a lot of footage to view and data to crunch but it is great to get the fieldwork season underway.

Elsewhere both Russ and Marcus continued engagements with some private landowners within the New Forest mainly conducting baseline and general ecological surveys looking at a range of taxa.

Hawfinch fieldwork involved monitoring a number of communal roosts at dawn across the New Forest and preparation for the main field season starting in April.

Looking ahead

Through April and May, we still have a few limited places available on forthcoming boat trips and two places remaining for the spring birdsong masterclass based out of the Bell Inn, Brook.

We have recently launched a new series of monthly walks from the Bell Inn, Brook looking at a different topic each month. We start on Sun 16th April with a walk focussed on mammals of the New Forest, each walk starts and ends at the Bell Inn, participants can join us afterwards for a coffer and cake, taking advantage of a 10% discount of food and drink purchased from the bar.

We have added a number of new walks over the spring and summer period, including a series of dusk walks, a woodland butterfly walk and a couple of nocturnal mothing sessions based at a private site near Lymington. This month we will add further dates for the Beaulieu River boat trip covering the summer period.

Our current schedule of events and access to our booking platform can be reached via our website at

Wild New Forest Facebook highlights

March saw a notable increase in traffic on the Facebook with more posts and comments than Jan and Feb (390/2153 respectively). As always a broad range of topics were covered with signs of spring featuring heavily. It was no surprise that the excellent image of an Osprey over Normandy Marsh was the months most popular post.

As always, we work hard behind the scenes to ensure the site remains informative, educational and above all friendly. We continue to encourage members to post their views but please do remain respectful of those with opposing views

Forthcoming illustrated talks

12 Apr 2023: Milford on Sea WI (Wildlife in the New Forest)

17 Apr 2023: SNHS (The New Forest Pine Marten Project)

18 Apr 2023: The Forest Rambling Club (The New Forest Year)

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