Trip reports

East Grinstead RSPB Local Group Visit to Acres Down and Blashford Lakes - Saturday 22 February 2020

East Grinstead RSPB Local Group Visit to Acres Down and Blashford Lakes - Saturday 22 February 2020

Wednesday, 26 February 2020

It would have been easy to call off this visit to Hampshire with a weather forecast of strong winds and showers. The decision to go ahead proved to be a good one for the 10 brave members who made the long journey. 46 species were seen including all 3 target birds.

Acres Down:

First port of call was Acres Down, in the New Forest, where we were hoping to see goshawks and woodlarks.

Our worst fears looked like materialising when we were met with wet and blustery conditions at the start. The early arriving members saw a treecreeper in the trees adjacent to the car park. A song thrush sang heartily from one of the tall trees, lifting our spirits as we headed up the slope towards the raptor viewing point. On the tops, the poor weather limited our sightings to a few goldfinch, a blackbird, a dunnock, the odd meadow pipit and a couple of ravens.

A passing local birder was sceptical of our chances of seeing goshawks in these conditions and advised us to move down into the more sheltered areas in the valley where he had seen crossbills and hawfinch. We duly followed his advice but with little success and, after losing our way in unfamiliar surroundings, we decided to retrace our steps back to the summit. By now the weather was showing signs of improvement and this coincided with a change in our fortunes.

Near the top of the hill we heard the distinctive song of the woodlark, our first target species. It was very close and we soon located it in the sky almost directly overhead. This was a first of the year for most of us and it stayed around long enough for everyone to get a really good view.

Not long afterwards, we were delighted to see a huge raptor flying left and we soon established that it was a female goshawk, our primary target species. We followed the flight of the bird for a while, watching as it was joined by the smaller male before performing its display routine. A third goshawk was also seen a little later from our same vantage point on the hill. Our whole morning had been transformed in the space of 30 minutes and we headed back to the car park for lunch in very good spirits.

Blashford Lakes:

Blashford was clearly looking the worse for wear after the floods of the past few weeks and wellies were the order of the day here. We parked in the very wet north car park near to the Tern Hide before spending time in the hide overlooking Ibsley Water. The usual suspects were all present. We soon spotted the goosanders, way over the far side of the lake, a female and 2 drakes - our final target species. There were also scores of pintail as well as a superb drake goldeneye and lots of pochard.

We then walked over the road towards the visitor centre where most of the flooded paths had just been reopened and we were able to visit Ivy South Hide, Woodland Hide and Ivy North Hide. We saw fewer birds than usual from Woodland Hide but we did get nuthatch, long-tailed tit, chaffinch, goldfinch, dunnock, greenfinch, coal tit, blue tit and great tit but there were no woodpeckers, siskins or redpolls. On Ivy Lake we added gadwall and mute swan to our day list bringing our total for the day to a creditable 46 species.

All in all, this trip was well worth the effort. It was a risk with the weather but we made it!

Looking to the future, there is a strong case for moving this event to a summer slot on our calendar. With goshawks now being seen regularly in Sussex, there is less need than before to go out of county in February to see them. We could switch our attention to two summer specialists that are found here in Hampshire. Wood warblers are almost extinct in Sussex but are still seen in the New Forest each year. Acres Down is also a hot spot for honey buzzards. This combination would provide sufficient incentive for a visit and would help maintain our connection with this fabulous area. Most important of all though - the weather would be much kinder to us!

Bob Hastings