Talk Report: 23 January 2018 Andy Page: Raptors of the New Forest

Andy Page is Head of Wildlife Management at the Forestry Commission. Lymington & District Naturalists’ Society recently benefitted from his great enthusiasm and extensive knowledge when he came to talk to us about the work he’s done throughout his career to protect and support birds of prey in the New Forest and surrounding areas.

Andy has always aimed to minimise potential detrimental effects of forestry management on breeding raptors. The most important and effective way to do this is to find the trees where these beautiful and enigmatic birds are nesting and then ensure that no tree harvesting takes place near them. This careful management and the New Forest high quality habitat has resulted in a thriving population. After locating a nest it is then monitored through the breeding cycle but with the absolute minimum of disturbance: these top predator birds are schedule 1 listed so Andy has the necessary licence as well as one for ringing the chicks and a certificate for climbing the trees to get to them and put cameras in place.

The New Forest has the perfect environment for the Common Buzzard to thrive and now holds about 45 breeding pairs. It’s probably the most easily seen raptor often perching on gateposts or fences or hunting for earthworms and insects on the ground. When soaring it holds its wings pointing up in a diagnostic shallow ‘V’ shape. The Honey Buzzard in contrast is seen infrequently as it’s a much more secretive bird; even someone as experienced as Andy has difficulty locating the nests of this species. There can be up to seven breeding pairs in the New Forest but numbers fluctuate from year to year. Most of the food for these chicks is wasp larvae; parent birds raid wasp nests and take biscuit-size pieces of comb containing larvae back to the nest where they give the juicy and nutritious grubs to their young.

Sparrowhawks were the first raptors that Andy studied. Initially he found it very difficult to locate their nests having to walk miles for hours through conifer plantations. However experience improved his skills and now he can confidently predict the exact tree – usually a Scots Pine - where a nest is likely to be found. The magnificent Goshawk is a big success story in the New Forest. They were not known to breed anywhere in Hampshire until 2001 but there’s been a steady increase since then and now there are about 45 pairs breeding in the Forest. They are in the same family as Sparrowhawks but are twice the size. As big birds they need big trees in which to nest and often select the tallest Douglas Firs. As with the Sparrowhawk pairs, Goshawk males are only about two-thirds the size of the females. In both species the female does all the egg incubation while the male hunts and brings her food until the chicks are about 2½ weeks old and able to be left alone in the nest.

Throughout the evening Andy showed us superb still photos and video footage of all these and a number of other less common breeding species e.g. Hobby and Kestrel, plus other raptors such as Red Kite and Osprey which don’t yet breed in our area but may do so in the future. His presentation was clear and informative and was much appreciated by the large and attentive audience.

Indoor meetings of the Lymington & District Naturalists’ Society take place at The Lymington Centre throughout the winter months and field meetings take place all year round. See for details of all these. Visitors are always welcome.

A Male Kestrel hovering
© Richard Coomber

Walk Report: 18 January 2018 Blashford Lakes

The promised wind and rain had usefully passed through overnight so Adrian and seven members enjoyed reasonable weather for the morning and a magnificent rainbow as we began at the Tern Hide overlooking Ibsley Water.  Unfortunately most of the waterfowl were on the far side but two or three fine Goldeneye were visible along with a number of Goosander and some Pintail.  The seemingly ever increasing number of Cormorants had amongst them the odd Canada and Greylag Goose and a Grey Heron.   

Crossing to the Centre, we next tried Ivy North Hide.  The light was not good and the main birds on the lake were Gadwall and plenty of Coot too.  Finally and most successfully we enjoyed a spell in the Woodland Hide.  Bramblings were easy this morning with a maximum of three or four showing well.  Great Spotted Woodpecker and Reed Bunting visited the feeders and colour was added by the siskin and goldfinches.  There were also plenty of Blue, Great and Long-tailed Tits, lots of Chaffinches, the odd Nuthatch and a solitary Greenfinch. AB


                                     © Richard Coomber

Talk Report: 09 January 2018 Gill Perkins: The Plight of the Bumblebee

Members recently enjoyed a fascinating talk by Gill Perkins, Chief Executive Officer of Bumblebee Conservation Trust.  This organisation, established 12 years ago is dedicated to protecting the UKs bumblebees which have suffered a rapid decline (including the loss of two species).  The reason is quite straight forward - in the last 75 years Britain has lost 97% of its’ wildflower meadows which the bumblebees have relied upon for food in the form of nectar produced by the flowers.  In so feeding the bees do the vital job of pollination. Most importantly they do the same for the country’s fruit and veg crops and indeed because of the structure of the flowers it is only bumblebees that can pollinate tomato plants.  Due to the drastic decline in the number of our bumblebees we import a staggering 65000 boxes of commercially reared bumblebees from abroad each year to make up the shortfall in pollinators.  This is by no means ideal as they could bring various pests and diseases with them, exposing our native bumblebees to them.  
An Early Bumblebee found during our outing to Ham Wall last May 
© Richard Coomber

At first glance one might wonder how a bumblebee can remain airborne with its large body and small wings: the secret is in the strength of the chest muscles coupled with a fast rate of wing beats.  We have six species of common bumblebee:  White-tailed, Buff-tailed, Garden, Early, Red-tailed and Common Carder.  To these may be added the Tree Bumblebee - a species which arrived more recently from France.  It tends to nest higher up than our native species and does not in any event conflict with them.  The bumblebee has a four stage life cycle.  Only the Queens survive the winter having mated and when they emerge they immediately look for a nesting place -an old mouse or vole burrow is ideal.  She will then construct a wax bowl in which to store the nectar she collects (the flowers of goat willow are particularly valuable at this time of year ) and lays eggs which hatch in five days; the larvae are dependent upon the collected nectar and are ready to pupate in three weeks.  These are all females and when they hatch their function will be to look after the Queen and to collect food.  In June/July unfertilised eggs are laid which will become male bumblebees.  These have a relatively easy life, their only function to mate which they will do with a Queen from a different nest from the one in which they were born.  The new Queen will then look for a cool secure place in which to hibernate and in the Spring the cycle begins again. 

It was explained that everyone can help in giving bumblebees a chance to recover their numbers by introducing to their garden flowers with high nectar content: examples are lavenders, alliums, mahonia and hellebores.  Unfortunately bedding plants are not much use for this purpose.  The other useful thing to do is of course to join Bumblebee Conservation Trust which is a science based evidence led charity.  It has worked with all four of the regional governments in the UK and in each case the result has been the establishment of a pollination strategy.  Apart from this high level work Bumblebee Conservation Trusts main areas of activity are creating and restoring wild flower habitats in the most needed areas, encouraging bee friendly gardening, advice to landowners, farmers and local councils as to how they can help,  working with schools to inspire the next generation and survey work to collect data.  Their website is

Tree Bumblebees using a bird's nest box
© Richard Coomber