Wood Warbler – Acres Down, New Forest

I hadn’t seen Shaun for almost 20 years yet he had me changing my plans with the promise of a Wood Warbler. I had decided to try for Honey Buzzard again and with the weather about to break in mid-week I headed out on Tuesday morning. I walked up from the car park and on the way bumped into Shaun Robson and Marie at the first raptor viewpoint. Shaun was the Dorset County Bird Recorder when I lived in Poole and I hadn’t seen him since 2002. We chatted for a good while, mainly about birding and the torture of being a Newcastle United fan. He also mentioned that he had seen a Wood Warbler earlier.

I had already given up hope of seeing Wood Warbler this year after several failed attempts over the last three weeks. Any local sightings in Hampshire are not disclosed on Going Birding as this is a very rare breeding species in the county and so to see one you need to find one yourself or talk to someone who has just seen one.  

Armed with good directions from Shaun I abandoned the Honey Buzzard plan and headed back down into the wood. I walked past the s-bends, down the straight track, past marker 97 and then turned right up the grass track in the hollow. I could then hear the Wood Warbler singing and I followed the song into the trees. There seemed to be a lot of conifers which was odd but also some deciduous trees in a small sunlit glade and this is where the song seemed to be coming from.

When I was in position I waited. The song stopped briefly before a silvery-white flash zipped between the trees at lower than head height. It then fluttered up to a nearby branch, threw its head back and burst into its accelerating explosive song. The last part of which, the final trill, sounds like the a spinning coin coming to rest on a metal worktop. The song also included several mournful ‘piu piu’ calls.

While singing he held his wings, which were trembling slightly, low and they were clearly very long with a significant primary extension. The head, upper chest and throat were a lovely lemon yellow. The underparts were silvery white and the undertail coverts were long.

Wood Warblers have declined in the UK by more than 65% between 1989 & 2015. The RSPB found that nest success rates had not changed suggesting that the problems facing Wood Warblers may be occurring along their migration routes and on their African wintering grounds. Ringing recoveries indicate Wood Warblers stopover in Italy in late summer. No UK ringed wood warblers have ever been recovered in sub-Saharan Africa although stable feather isotopes suggest that most of Europe’s breeding wood warblers may spend the winter in the humid forest zone of the Congo basin in central Africa.

Very light geolocators may help us understand the routes they take and the timings of their migrations. Knowing this will enable us to look at potential impacts of events across their annual cycle on population trends. In partnership with the BTO, geo-locators are now being fitted to adult male Wood Warblers in Dartmoor and the New Forest.

A juvenile Redstart also showed nicely in the woods and after my time with the Wood Warbler I headed back up to the main raptor viewpoint and spent the next three hours watching over the woods in the blazing sun. I had great views of Goshawk and a Hobby drifted past but it was another no show on the Honey Buzzard. In around eight hours of viewing from the raptor viewpoint I had failed to see any which was frustrating after last year’s excellent views.

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