The Dartford warbler is a true heathland specialty and the New Forest is one of its strongholds.
In the rest of the UK it is only found in the southern counties and Suffolk. These are the only places that stay warm enough for the species to survive through the winter and also have suitable heathland habitat.
In the New Forest, Dartford Warblers can be found on areas of open heathland with a scattering of gorse bushes. This is the only habitat where you are likely to find them, except in winter when you may see them in gorse scrub along the coast.
Most warblers spend the winter in Africa, but Dartford Warblers stay here all year round. They survive because the heather and gorse are thick and evergreen and they can find insects among the bushes throughout the winter, even when there is a covering of snow. But harsh winter weather will kill many of them and after the 1960s just a few pairs survived in the country. More recently their numbers increased due to warmer winters and well managed areas of heathland.
The best way to look for Dartford Warblers is to go to an area of heathland with gorse bushes on a sunny morning in April or May when the males will be singing on top of the gorse bushes. Areas such as Dur Hill near Burley and Hampton Ridge, near Frogham, are good places.
Photo credit: Mike Read