The secret lives of New Forest birds of prey

For the next five months, visitors will get a privileged peek into the lives of some of the New Forest’s most impressive birdlife, thanks to high tech video technology.

A date with nature in the New Forest uses ‘raptorcam’ technology to allow viewers to follow the lives of birds of prey in their nests as they breed, hatch eggs, feed chicks and teach their young how to fly.

The project is based at the New Forest Reptile Centre, two miles south west of Lyndhurst off the A35, and is run by the RSPB, New Forest National Park Authority, Forestry Commission and Carnyx Wild. Last year saw around 20,000 people visit the centre to watch the drama unfold, and online coverage also proved popular.

This year, visitors will be able to share the highs and lows of the breeding season with pairs of buzzards and goshawks until June, and then see footage of a hobby nest through the summer.

As well as being streamed online, the footage will also be on view daily between 10am and 4.30pm at the Reptile Centre, where staff and volunteers will be on hand to explain more about the birds’ behaviour.

Cameras have already been positioned high up in the tree canopy ready to capture footage of the buzzards and goshawks as they guard their eggs, with the chicks likely to appear in May.

Michael Lake, project officer for the RSPB, said: ‘It’s fantastic that a new date with nature season is upon us again. Every year we are able to show visitors the journey of the amazing birds of prey of the New Forest; from egg to first flight.

This year we are feeling very fortunate to be able to show visitors a different bird from previous seasons and show them the family life of a buzzard. People are used to seeing these magnificent birds soaring high in our skies; but we will show their life from a whole new angle.’

Lead ranger at the New Forest National Park Authority, Gillie Molland, said: ‘It is great to see a date with nature continuing to go from strength to strength It is an excellent opportunity for us to give visitors of all ages a unique insight into the lives of the Forest’s birds of prey.

‘As well as seeing into the nests of these impressive raptors, visitors can also discover how important the New Forest is for ground nesting birds, with an exhibition of  sculpted models of the birds in their natural habitats. Wednesdays in the school holidays are particularly good for younger visitors, as we run our Wild Wednesdays events, where there will be fun activities and extra trails to help all the family learn more about the National Park’s special qualities.’

Wild Wednesday events run every Wednesday during the Easter and summer half terms and the summer school holidays, with fun activities for the whole family. This year the dates are 8, 15 April, 27 May, 29 July and 5, 12, 19 and 26 August.

A date with nature also features live footage from a ‘feeder cam’, which will capture activity around bird feeders near the centre. A camera has also been set up in one of the nest boxes intended for smaller woodland birds, and the project staff are eagerly waiting to see which species will nest in there.

A date with nature in the New Forest runs daily from 28 March to 6 September, 10am to 4.30pm. Entry to the Reptile Centre is free although donations for parking are welcome.

Watch live footage of the birds in their nests online at www.newforestgateway.org or www.newforestnpa.gov.uk/datewithnature.