Short-eared Owls – Portland Bill, Dorset

Having stopped for sandwiches we parked up just south of the Southwell Business Park so that we could walk south along the abandoned fields towards the higher light. This is the favoured area for the wintering Short-eared Owls. 

One night off a full moon, a crystal clear sky and no headwind was hardly the recipe for any sort of drop of migrants but the slow walk was full of them with good numbers of Wheatears, Whinchats, Whitethroats, Willow Warblers and Blackcaps and smaller numbers of Sedge Warblers and Redstarts. It was perhaps a little early in the day (2pm) for the Short-eared Owls and we arrived at the Bill without seeing any.

We stopped for a cup of tea and a scone in the Lobster Pot Café and then headed to the Bird Observatory before cutting up north along the footpath back to the strip fields. We saw a Short-eared Owl almost straight away perched on a fence post and then we were distracted by a singing Reed Warbler. We turned back to see that the owl had gone and it was another 30 minutes or more before we saw it again. This time it returned with another Short-eared Owl and we watched them hunt for an hour or so, fantastic birds! They occasionally perched on a fence post allowing a few brief sketches.

As we had seen the owls fairly early in the afternoon there was time to head back home via Blashford Lakes to try and see the Black Terns that had just been found.

We arrived at Blashford at 6:40pm with the hides closed and so we made our way to the viewing platform and immediately saw the Black Terns, all three of them, on ‘the stick’. They then flew and spent the next 30 minutes or so feeding on the wing. I think they will have roosted on one of the islands before leaving at first light as they were never seen again. We also found a 1st summer Little Gull and our first Common Terns of the year. A Garden Warbler song behind me turned into some of the best prolonged views I’ve ever had of this rather elusive species.

A great day with 11 new year ticks for me (and 12 for Dad) – Osprey, Whimbrel, Whinchat, Grasshopper Warbler, Pied Flycatcher, Whitethroat, Short-eared Owl, Reed Warbler, Black Tern, Common Tern and Garden Warbler.  This takes me up to 186 for the year.

Hobby & Woodcock – Beaulieu Rd & Churchplace Inc – 21st April 2019

An evening trip for Hobby and Woodcock. There are no guaranteed locations for Hobby in the New Forest but a warm summer evening on the Beaulieu Heaths should give you as much chance as anywhere. At this time of year Hobbies are returning from their African wintering grounds, I’ve never really looked for Hobby in April before and there hadn’t been any New Forest reports so far, this would be my earliest ever record if successful. Dad and I arrived at Shatterford car park at around 4:45pm and walked south to the railway bridge and then began scanning.

Hobbies are never numerous but in the New Forest they can be seen over heaths and bogs, hawking for insects that are taken and eaten on the wing. Within a few minutes I picked up a falcon in the distance. The dashing, purposeful flight, long thin wings and very dark upperparts were diagnostic and in the telescope I could see the dark moustachial stripe and red ‘trousers’. 

We also heard a distant Cuckoo and had several views of a singing male Dartford Warbler. There were several large orange moths bombing around and given the time of year and habitat I think they may have been male Emperor Moths but they never landed.

At about 6:30pm we headed off to Churchplace Inclosure near Ashurst to look for roding Woodcock. This is a location that had been recommended to me by the New Forest Woodcock Group and as it is a large area we arrived slightly early so that we could familiarise ourselves with the layout and find a suitable place to view from. Once in place we enjoyed watching a Noctule, the UKs largest bat, hawking for moths and insects directly overhead.

Woodcock usually begin their display flight about 15 minutes after sunset and continue until it’s too dark to see. Roding is a display flight which males make to look for and display to females. They seem to prefer conifer woodland and the tracks within the wood are often better than open forest woodland.

At around 17 minutes after sunset we heard the characteristic call of a roding Woodcock and within a few seconds a Woodcock burst into view fairly low down and just above our heads, pretty exhilarating in the darkness! Over the next 20 minutes we had 6 further close passes.

On the walk back to the car we heard a calling Tawny Owl which made it 4 year ticks on the day (Hobby, Cuckoo, Woodcock and Tawny Owl) taking me up to 190 for the year.

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