Passerines and Ponies

One weekend in the middle of July we took off down to the New Forest for a couple of days. The New Forest was originally a hunting forest for King William in the 12th century and 800 years later was eventually awarded National Park status in 2005. It lies along the south coast of England in Hampshire in a triangle delineated by Southampton, Salisbury and Bournemouth, and covers around 150 square miles, which in the context of southern England is a fairly sizable area. As the name suggests it consists of ancient forest which is interspersed with large areas of heathland and it’s renowned for its wildlife, being home to many less abundant species of birds, butterflies, mammals and reptiles.

One day while we were there we found a secluded spot on the edge of Stoney Cross to eat our picnic. We parked the car adjacent to some woodland where the canopy was so dense it was nearly dark on the forest floor and impossible to see in. There were lots of small birds darting around and I could see that some of them were chaffinches, but there were others that it was simply too dark to see properly and identify. So when one of the kids had finished their sandwich and there was some left over I broke it up and put it on a rotting tree stump on the edge of the forest and sat in the boot of the car with my camera. Within seconds the stump was full of birdlife, and now I could see them properly most of them were chaffinch:

Hen chaffinch (Fringilla coelebs, Dansk: bogfinke) eyeing up a crusty morsel

It was challenging photographically because it was starting to rain and as you can see above, looking into the forest it was very murky indeed, so I increased the ISO to 800 and hoped the shutter speed would be fast enough. Shortly after the chaffinch descended, there were great tits (Parus major, Dansk: sortemejse), marsh tits (Poecile palustris, Dansk: sumpmejse), a robin (Erithacus rubecula, Dansk: rødhals) and my favourite of them all:

Nuthatch (Sitta europaea, Dansk: Spætmejse)

I like nuthatch and I rarely get to see them. Occasionally my parents have one visiting their feeders in the winter but it’s a long time since I saw one in the wild, so this was a treat. And this one liked sausage roll:

The nuthatch is a woodland bird which nests in holes in deciduous trees and is the only bird I can think of which I have seen walking headfirst down a tree. The marsh tit is also a bird of dense deciduous woodland which nests in cavities in old and rotten trees, so it was no surprise to see either of them in this particular spot. But I can highly recommend taking an old baguette or sausage roll to entice them down out of the tree canopy to get a good view.

Marsh tit (Poecile palustris, Dansk: sumpmajse)

The most famous and charismatic residents of the New Forest are the wild ponies. They are common in the forest and can be seen wandering around the towns and villages:

My daughter making friends with a New Forest pony

We were standing on the terrace of an ice cream shop tucking into our soft-ices as a small herd of ponies sauntered down the road from the direction of the car, top left. They spotted us and three or four of them came up the slope to join us on the terrace and attempted to share our ice creams! They are completely wild but they’re accustomed to humans being about. But if you happen to be in the forest when a herd come thundering past at high speed it’s an alarming experience, as we found out shortly before this picture was taken. They came by around 25m away and a few minutes later came back even closer. I’ve stood on the rail at Cheltenham watching the Gold Cup as the horses come past on their way to the finish line, and it’s extremely exciting – but it’s a lot more exciting when there’s no rail and no jockeys to keep them in a straight line!

26 responses to “Passerines and Ponies

  1. Beautiful photographs of the birds, Finn. I can’t get over the Wild Ponies! It’s amazing they’ll interact so calmly with humans.

    • The ponies are all accustomed to having people around so they’re quite relaxed, and the people love them. They’re a major source of tourist revenue for the area so the locals are happy to have them there.

      I’m pleased you like the birds Melanie, that was a very fruitful half hour sat in the boot (trunk) of the car 🙂

  2. How amazing! Ponies running wild in the main street in the U.K. where everything seems so cramped and confined! When we visited in 2006 (Steve comes from the U.K.) we went to some woods for a look see and I couldn’t get over how very different to bushland here in Australia they were. I no longer have to be envious of your incredible beautiful wild flowers and wild life because I can enjoy them via this blog. I am going to have to thank ms. Argyle socks for sharing your link with us all 🙂

    • It’s great to have you on board!

      It’s getting increasingly more crowded in this Part of the world but thankfully the New Forest and the ponies are protected and managed. It was good fun when they came to beg for a taste of ice cream, my daughter was beside herself!

  3. Such excellent photos! We are blessed with lots of nuthatches here. They alternate with chickadees darting to grab one of the sunflower seeds that I put out for the birds and chipmunks.

  4. Lovely photos and post, thanks, Finn. Re the nuthatches, they’re not the same species. Apparently, there are no less than 22 species of them worldwide. Here in the Northeast of N. America, one sees the White-breasted (Sitta Carolinensis) frequently, and, less often, the beautiful Red-breasted one (S. Canadensis). They’ll happily occupy nest-boxes and take peanuts from the feeder at the window. I enjoy their bustling energy.

    • Hello Robert, I didn’t know there were that many nuthatches. I’d love to attract a pair into a nestbox in my garden, but alas there aren’t any around here. But that makes it even more special when I do spot one!

  5. Hi Finn,
    We also have nuthatches here in Colorado…they’re easy to spot in the trees because of the way they head down head first, as you said. We also often see them twirl around tree branches, head first and all the way around, like a gymnast on the high bars. Love them. Great post!

  6. Another great post Finn. Loved it!

  7. What a wonderful weekend! To my knowledge, I’ve never seen a nuthatch and I had no idea that they walked head first down trees! Those ponies are lovely, and I can only imagine the thrill/terror of a herd of them galloping towards you.

    • Nuthatch are lovely and very distinctive. You can see they have fine gripping claws and the pose I always think of them in is on a tree trunk pointing downwards with there head pointing outwards, looking around. I’ve not seen any other bird strike that pose, and with that colour scheme they’re unmistakeable.

      The galloping ponies were quite intimidating, we first heard them coming and we could tell there was a group of them moving fast and coming towards us but we couldn’t see them. We were on the edge of the forest and the horses were behind big clumps of gorse so we ran for the cover of a big old oak tree at the edge of the trees and they hove into view and passed us by around 15-20m away. That got the adrenaline flowing!

  8. wonderful post thank you

  9. Reblogged this on MottledThrush and commented:
    Natures wonders.

  10. Beautiful photos and I love the thought of wild ponies!

  11. You must have had very clean windows to get such crisp bird photos, or perhaps the window was open? Great idea to entice the birds into photo range with sandwich scraps.

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