Cheesefoot Head is a 176m peak to the east of Winchester. The surrounding area of open country was once chalk downland, but is now almost entirely made up of arable farmland. Nevertheless it still attracts a wide range of birds including typical farmland birds, raptors and passage migrants. The large area of fields to the south of the head is known as Longwood Warren.
Despite the intensive agriculture of the area, it remains a stronghold of the Corn Bunting in Hampshire, with 13 territories found during a 2017 survey. Other typical breeding birds include Skylark, Whitethroat, Linnet, Bullfinch and Yellowhammer. Raptors are well represented, with Red Kite, Buzzard, Sparrowhawk and Kestrel all common, along with two pairs of Raven. Peregrines are a frequent visitor at any time of year. Barn Owl and Tawny Owl are both resident. Gamebirds are numerous throughout most of the year and Grey Partridge is still seen occasionally, although these are likely to relate to introduced birds. This is one of the more regular sites for Quail in Hampshire but they are only present in some years (May-July). Firecrests now breed in most patches of woodland in the area, especially where there is ivy, holly or fir trees, while one or two pairs of Marsh Tit remain in the area.
Winter is perhaps the most interesting time to bird the area, as large flocks of finches, buntings, larks and pipits can be found in the fields. These in turn attract various raptors, including annual records of Hen Harrier and Merlin, plus the occasional Short-eared Owl. Bramblings are present in very good numbers in some winters, with flocks numbering 1,000+ present in 2003/04 and 2007/08. This is also a traditional area for wintering Golden Plovers, with a recent maximum of 1,500 in 2014. Fieldfare and Redwing can also be very numerous during the winter months.
The area can also be attractive to passage migrants, especially the bushes and scrub to the south of the head, as well as the various fencelines around Longwood Warren. The most regular species are Wheatear, Whinchat and Redstart, but there are also occasional records of Ring Ouzel and Black Redstart. Dotterel have occured on four occasions, most recently a flock of four in May 2011, so it is always worth checking the fields if you are visiting in late April or May.
There is a car park beside the A272 at SU529277. To the south of the road, there are two main footpaths, one which heads south from the blue tank (known as Warren Lane) and one which heads south west from the crossing of two footpaths (known as Fawley Lane). It is possible to walk a loop by taking one of these paths, turning onto the east-west path at the south end of Longwood Warren, and then returning on the other. It is also possible to walk a loop involving the area to the north of the A272, including Gander Down. There is very little parking in the area away from the main car park.
Hampshire County Council – Cheesefoot Head
Tom Jordan, October 2018