THE aptly named ‘phantom of the forest’ has made a return to the national park but, as spooky as it sounds, it is not the invasion of a Halloween cryptid.
Earning the above nickname because of their elusive nature, Forestry England (FE) has reported that goshawks, rare birds of prey that were previously close to extinction, have successfully seen their numbers double within the New Forest.
According to data collected throughout Hampshire in 2011, it was found that there were only 20 breeding pairs of goshawk recorded, however, according to FE their numbers have doubled, rising to a total of 40 pairs.
Andy Page, FE head of wildlife for the south district, told the A&T: “The New Forest is famous for its animals, from the Forest ponies and cattle that graze on it to the deer first established here for royal parties to hunt.
“But there are many other less well seen creatures that call the Forest home including one of the UK’s most elusive and largest birds of prey – the goshawk or so-called ‘phantom of the forest’ which are notoriously difficult to spot.
“Goshawks were absent from the New Forest for 120 years, only returning in 2002 when a single pair settled here again. Since then a team at Forestry England have been working hard to learn more about these raptors and help to ensure that they are able to breed successfully.”
Present in the Forest all year round, the goshawk is an agile flyer that instinctively opens and folds its wings at just the right moment as it weaves silently between trees and shrubs in pursuit of its prey.
Andy continued: “Today, there are around 40 pairs of goshawks living here in the New Forest and at this time of year they are busy nesting and rearing their young. We closely follow the progress of these birds and in one nest each year place a camera that allows us to observe a new goshawk family.
“For myself and my colleagues who have been working to support these amazing birds for many years now, it is always incredibly satisfying to see the arrival of new chicks, not to mention a bit nail biting waiting to see how many successfully fledge.
“Every year it takes time and dedication to locate the birds and identify nesting sites so we can exclude them from any ongoing forestry work.”
He added: “Given that these birds nest high up in some of the taller trees in the forest, monitoring them also involves a lot of climbing. It is not uncommon for me or one of the team to be seen clambering 20 meters into the upper branches of a large conifer tree to check on the birds.”
As well as recording breeding sites, the FE team count, ring, measure and weigh the new goshawk chicks they find.
The process of ringing and data collection is quick and painless for the chicks and in many instances the parent birds are unaware they have even visited the nest, as they can be away hunting for long periods.
Data collected helps FE learn more about the species here in the New Forest, including how well they are fed and whether the Forest offers the right conditions to sustain the population.