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