Turtle Dove – Martin Down NNR, Hampshire

Turtle Doves have usually arrived in the UK by mid-May and so I thought I would visit Martin Down which is their Hampshire stronghold. This is a location I know well from my close up wildlife photography workshops and I was confident of seeing them as I always hear them while we’re photographing spring butterflies and orchids.

I decided that I would first try the area I normally go to for the butterflies. Lesser Whitethroats, Whitethroats, Cuckoos, Yellowhammers and Corn Buntings were all singing but I didn’t hear any Turtle Doves in the dense hawthorn thickets and copses. 

I headed off to try another area of dense scrub and paused on the edge of a small clearing within the thicket and noticed a pale shape in a hawthorn tree. I located it in my binoculars and was really pleased to see that it was a Turtle Dove. I tried to switch to my telescope but it flew before I had located it and what was presumably the same bird then started singing 50 yards away. I followed the lovely purring song and soon relocated the Turtle Dove perched up towards the top of another hawthorn tree.

Slightly smaller than a Collared Dove they are significantly more attractive with a pinkish breast, a blue grey head with a black and white striped neck patch and very neat dark centred ginger edged wing feathers. 

One advantage of sketching via a telescope, as opposed to photography, is that you don’t need to approach very closely so you can sketch from a distance with the bird remaining relaxed and you can still get decent sized ‘images’.

Turtle Dove is on the Red List of Birds of Conservation Concern with the UK population having fallen by 95% since 1970. This roughly corresponds to a halving in the population every ten years.

This is mainly due to changing farming practices meaning that the seeds from wildflowers which they feed on are in short supply, the number of breeding attempts per pair has also halved (they form long term pair bonds) and the shooting of birds on migration in Mediterranean countries adds to the problem. The population is retreating into an ever shrinking patch of East Anglia and the South East of England. UK extinction is a real possibility.

This is my first year tick for two weeks and takes me to 212 for the year.

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