Ring Ouzel – Leaden Hall, New Forest, Hampshire

One of my target birds for October was Ring Ouzel. They are primarily birds of the uplands of Scotland, northern England, north west Wales and Dartmoor where they breed in steep sided-valleys, crags and gullies. On their way back to Africa for the winter they appear to use regular stop off points, rather like Dotterel. In Hampshire one of these places is Leaden Hall in the New Forest and so this was a possible place I was hoping to catch up with one. On the first two days of October a couple of Ring Ouzels were reported along the south coast and on the evening of the 2nd Clay Jones reported an adult male at Leaden Hall.

I spoke to Dad and arranged to pick him up at 7am the next morning. We parked at Black Gutter Bottom and made the walk to Leaden Hall as the sun was rising. Clay had said that the Ring Ouzel was in the valley 500 metres south of the plateau by a small scrubby area with a holly bush and a dead tree. We found the likely area but there was no sign of the bird. We headed back to the main plateau area and began scanning again.

There was one particular tree that was heavily laden with berries and had attracted a group of Blackbirds. We concentrated out attention on this area and shortly afterwards we found a Ring Ouzel. It appeared to be a first winter male bird and was associating closely with the group of around five Blackbirds.

The Blackbirds flicked in and out of the trees and shrubs but they rarely came out to the front and so, in the main, it was fleeting flight only views. Occasionally they would show fairly well in the berries at the front but this showy bird was often a Blackbird and not the Ring Ouzel which proved rather elusive although its noticeably different call (harder and more penetrating like stones being banged together hard) was a constant indicator of whether the bird was close by.

At times it was fairly frustrating but over a couple of hours we built up some decent views and I managed to get some sketches. Before the next Ring Ouzel sighting I planned what features I was going to concentrate on next time and in this way I managed to see all of the bird very well.

The white breast band was noticeable but not well marked, everything below the breast band was darker which acted to emphasise the demarcation of the white breast. The underparts, flanks, undertail coverts, mantle and scapular feathers were pale edged giving a scaly appearance. The bill was fairly dark with a yellow base. There were creamy feathers towards the bill creating a pale sub-moustachial stripe and throat. The greater coverts were especially pale edged and the tertials, secondaries and primaries were also paler than on a Blackbird. Structurally, the primaries were as long as the tertials, they are shorter than the tertial length on Blackbirds. In flight and compared to a Blackbird the wings looked paler and the tail looked longer.

At one stage they were joined by a Song Thrush and a flock of 20 Mistle Thrushes flew overhead. A group of five Reed Buntings was a slightly surprising find. There were also Chiffchaffs, a Dartford Warbler and a female Blackcap in the immediate area.

David Ryves arrived later and showed me a picture of Clay’s bird, his was an adult male so ours was a different bird.

Leaden Hall is in the northern part of the New Forest a mile or so east of Godshill. During the Second World War this circular man-made feature was used as a target for bomb testing. A target wall (forty feet high) stood off-centre in the circular area and it was used to test bombs, the concrete apron was removed in 1991 and the area is now grassed over. The feature is still remarkably bare and from the air is a highly visible target for Ring Ouzels.

Birds that migrate at night use the constellations and work out a north south orientation by how the stars revolve around the north star. During the day, however, birds make use of their keen eye sight and use landmarks like mountains and rivers and in the case of Ring Ouzels they use the very obvious pale circle which is what Leaden Hall looks like from the air.

Ring Ouzel takes me to 241 for the year.

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