If it’s Wednesday it has to be a birdwatching walk and what could be better in the grey chill of early winter than a trip to one of the RSPB’s newest reserves – Broadwater Warren near Royal Tunbridge Wells.
We were met with a full car park, mainly dog-walkers it has to be said and despite the RSPB’s request that dogs be kept on a lead and the footpaths, there were few on a lead, and several wandering about all over the place. However, ponies will be brought in to graze the cleared areas and fencing should help to keep the dogs out of those areas in the future, protecting the habitat for birds. The positive side is that plenty of folk are visiting the site, and several stopped for a chat about the birds when they saw our binoculars.
Currently an area of conifer planation, the plan is to restore it to heathland with gorse and heather. A couple of large areas have already been cleared and it has to be said that they look pretty uninviting at present, but the latent heather seeds should begin germinating next season and the hope is that within a few years nature will have repaired the damage done by previous planting.
We decided to do the main circuit, a short distance but when you are visiting a site for the first time it’s good to have plenty of time to take in the whole experience. We walked between thick conifer plantation one one side and newly cleared forest on the other. A narrow strip of trees and bushes has been left at the edge of the cleared area to provide cover for dormice until they have moved over to the forested area at the other side of the path. In the meantime they are being monitored on the site.
As we moved further into the reserve we finally encountered our first birds. A feeding flock of lesser redpoll, blue and long-tailed tit. We met up with these or similar birds on and off throughout the rest of our visit.
An old decoy pond looked promising but was birdless, by the veteran oak (over 200 years old) the Eridge Rocks nature reserve abuts the RSPB reserve and consists of sweet chestnut coppice. The second half of the walk took us on a direct path to the car park, we met up with the feeding flock again although a little larger on this occasion with at least 20 long-tailed tit, and similar numbers of blue tit. In the forest adjacent to the path a couple of blackbirds alarmed and a pair of robin were feeding ahead of us.
The reserve has great potential, and it will be interesting to see how it develops over the forthcoming years.
We decided to move on to Bedgebury Pinetum to look for crossbill and hawfinch. After the satnav had taken us on the “pretty” route, we finally arrived and had lunch in the cafe. The bird sightings board was massively out of date but did ask for details of crossbill sightings. Malcolm took us off in the direction of previous sightings, and when we arrived in the designated spot, we came across another birdwatcher with the same hopes. Within minutes we heard the distinctive “chucking” call of crossbill as they flew overhead. This happened several times but we were not able to catch up with any settled birds.
At one stage Sally noticed a bird in the top of a leafless oak tree, Malcolm quickly got the telescope onto the bird which was a Hawfinch! Only the second time I have seen one in Britain, and although the view was a little dark and hazy, it was unmistakable. Within minutes of all of us looking through the ‘scope the bird flew. We hoped to track it down, possibly roosting with others, but despite our efforts we had to satisfy ourselves with the one view.
Hawfinch are Red status in the UK (but of little or no concern in Europe where they 2.3 to 4 million or globally) due to a recent breeding decline. We have 3,000 to 6,500 pairs breeding in the UK, and around 10,000 to 15,000 wintering in the UK each year.