28th April 2023 – The Forest of Dean

I had subscribed to a an afternoon birding walk in the Forest of Dean organised jointly by local retailer “Clifton Cameras” and “Zeiss Optics”. The walk was billed as an opportunity to view and experience Zeiss’s new SLF binoculars and Digital Thermal Imaging (DTI) cameras as well as other optics.

The Forest of Dean is a 50 minute drive from my home in Bristol and, especially as I have had limited opportunities of late, I set off early to spend an hour or two on my own in this beautiful ancient forest.

I headed for the RSPB reserve of Nagshead which I know quite well and where I hoped to see pied flycatchers. I had barely settled into the Lower Hide when a litter of boarlets passed in front of me near to the pool in front of the hide. I have seen wild boar in the forest before from the roadside, and often seen the large areas of uprooted and disturbed soil caused by their powerful necks and snout as they search for food, but I had never encountered them close up in the forest.

Wild boar piglets or boarlets affectionately known as humbugs

The piglets (or boarlets) are a lighter ginger-brown than the adult boars with stripes on their coat for camouflage and are affectionally known as ‘humbugs’. They disappeared in a flash, I presume, to their farrowing nest.

Unfortunately I didn’t manage to see any pied flycatchers, although I was assured they had already built nests in the area but I did see a female and a male redstart (thanks mainly to the very friendly birders Don and Mike Smith from Corsham who I seem to bump into regularly at various birding sites around the south west”.

Male redstart

Redstart preening

Great tit

I then needed to set off for Speech House Woodland Car Park to meet up for the afternoon walk.

Martin Drew (from Clifton Cameras) and Toby Carter (from Zeiss Optics) were there to greet us and were buzzing with excitement with what they had seen seen on their morning walk: close ups of goshawks and firecrests and redstarts in numbers.

I thought this was a bad omen as it’s always the way when you meet a group of birders that they have just seen all sorts of birds that never re-appear.

And so we didn’t even get a glimpse of the goshawks but only a few distant views of ravens and buzzards. On our walk we heard goldcrests (but not firecrests), woodpeckers, chiffchaffs, willow warblers and chaffinches and saw a number of stonechats, tree pipits, linnets, tree creepers and mistle thrushes.

Mistle thrush


Tree pipit

Male stonechat

Female stonechat

Mistle thrush

There were other opportunities on the walk – green tiger beetle

However, we did get to see and use a whole range of very impressive Zeiss Optics in the field. It certainly made a change from testing optics by looking  at signs through a shop window. I would like to thank Martin and Toby who were great hosts on this walk and the four other birders on the trip who made it a very convivial afternoon.

It was wonderful to get out and about again and I can’t wait to take my wife (who is recovering from a hip replacement operation) back to the same spots to soak in the joys of nature.

From the Forest of Dean website:

“This ancient forest has changed many times over the centuries. In medieval times it was a royal hunting forest, before becoming a source of timber for the navy’s Tudor warships. By Victorian times it was a major site of industry, with coal mining and tramways punctuating the landscape.

In 1938 the Forest was designated the first National Forest Park and today the Forest of Dean is a popular destination for tourists.

Today the forest is still a working forest, producing sustainable timber for the UK market.

The Forest is also a stronghold for nature with larges areas of woodland and open space providing a mosaic of habitats for a wide variety of wildlife,

It is a great place to explore. See if you can find the hidden remains of industry as you enjoy this wild and beautiful forest.”

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