Godalming area birds

Godalming area birds

Thursday, 17 November 2016

Northern France & the Netherlands - day 1

This is the first of 3 blog posts covering my trip to northern France and the Netherlands from 16th-19th November 2016. A full trip report can be found here, on Cloud Birders.

Day 1 - Foret d'Hesdin


The moon over Foret d'Hesdin
The first full day of the trip was to include little birding, with only an hour or so scheduled in the Foret d'Hesdin, in Nord Pas de Calais, from dawn. We awoke in the small town of Hesdin, about 64 miles south-east of Calais, and after wolfing down a couple of pastries from the local boulangerie were heading up into the west side of the forest. This 1014 hectare, predominantly Beech woodland habitat was home to my one and only target of the day, and my only one that wasn't to be found in the Netherlands - Reeve's Pheasant.

This spectacular Chinese introduction is on category C of the French list, and the species breeds in Foret d'Hesdin, though birds are released here too. With Josh Jones' specific directions at hand, we parked by the gate on the western entrance track, and climbed up into the forest. Dew was still on the undergrowth, which was expansive, and the mist was lifting off the trees. The sound of finches filled the autumn air - huge numbers of Chaffinches, Siskins and Bramblings could be heard in the tree tops, with many Thrushes and Woodpigeons also present.

5 of the 8 male Reeve's Pheasants seen 
Walking up the track produced not a single Pheasant, not even a Common, and so we decided to deviate off the main path and deeper into the woods. Still, we had not a whiff of a gamebird, though some distinctive ticking high in the Beech trees above me indicated a Hawfinch, which I managed to lock eyes on. A few more of these enigmatic finches were heard in the following hour. Frustratingly, we headed back to the main track, and I continued the path east. As I approached a bend, a rather upright Pheasant came into view, and it wasn't long before I had my binoculars on a female Reeve's Pheasant. She stood, partially obscured by leaves, partially by mist, and as I began to approach she took off into the trees, much unlike a Common Pheasant.

These birds were confiding - the skulky individuals
in the deeper forest were probably wild-bred
Encouraged, I continued east, and a young plantation on the south side of the track revealed 2 stunning male birds. I slowly followed them into the young trees, and found 4 females, all very wary and quick to skulk away. A calling Crested Tit was a nice sueprise here. Delighted with the success, we grabbed the car and drove up the track, beyond the plantation, clocking up 2 more birds (a male and female) before stopping at a crossroads. Remarkably, here we found 5 males in the southbound track, showing wonderfully and just a few feet from the car. I managed several photos before leaving them to it, as we left Hesdin and France, moving into Belgium where we would stay the night.

Category C Pheasants aren't for everyone. Personally, seeing a Golden Pheasant in Norfolk last year was a wonderful moment. Either way, the next day would see the start of some proper winter birding, as I began my quest to see one of Europe's rarest waterbirds.