Woodlark – Acres Down, New Forest

Woodlarks start returning from their wintering territories in February and can reliably be seen and heard singing on their New Forest breeding territories during March. Although I usually see them later in the year when looking for other New Forest summer visitors I decided to head to Acres Down to spend some time trying to track them down. The forecast was for it to be cloudy but as I left the house at 6:45am I could see that it had been raining overnight and it was still drizzling now. I half debated going back to bed given that the Woodlarks were less likely to be singing if it was wet but I stuck to my plan and headed into the Forest with my windscreen wipers on. I got out of the car at Acres Down in what seemed like low cloud and drizzle.

As I made my way to the open areas of heath it started to clear a little and I heard Redpolls calling and then a group of Chaffinches flew over with at least 1 Brambling calling within the group. I also saw at least 3 Hawfinches given away by their penetrating metallic ticking and in flight by their heavy fronted appearance, short tail and striking wing bars.

Pretty soon I saw a couple of Woodlark as they tumbled together calling and they settled briefly in the heather. Over the next 2 hours I had good views although not continuously and even when they weren’t in view I knew they were still close by as they called to each other frequently. On several occasions two rival males flew up high singing continuously before eventually parachuting back down. In the short heather they were often not visible but would regularly pop up briefly onto a more exposed perch to survey their territory. 

I met a photographer who was also looking for the Woodlarks. He had an 800mm prime lens (£12,000+) but hadn’t managed to get any photos. He’d have probably got some images, albeit poorer quality, with a much smaller super zoom bridge camera which would provide a significantly greater magnification. The challenge with getting high quality bird photographs is that you probably need an SLR (the larger sensor provides better quality) and a lens which provides at least a 500mm focal length and even then you need to get very close to the subject with the high risk of flushing the bird and this often causes friction with other birders who are stood further back watching the bird via their telescopes or bridge cameras. 

The huge SLR lenses give the impression that the photographer is selfishly getting much closer than he needs to but in fact he’s often just trying (and usually failing) to get an image size approaching that which the other birders stood much further back get through their telescope or their bridge cameras. 

I debated getting a longer focal length lens for bird photography but for me sketching birds via a telescope provides a better success rate than trying to get really close with my SLR and an expensive 500mm+ lens (which I haven’t bought yet anyway!)

Woodlark takes my year list up to 151.

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