[picture taken by me at Draycote Water a few years ago]
Having spent three hours at Blenheim, waiting to catch a glimpse of a Hawfinch last Sunday and getting very cold and bored in the process I decided that rather than inflict more of the same by standing outside the gardens again, I would save myself another, possibly long wait, by venturing inside the gardens at the considerable cost of £9.00. I reasoned that as the female bird we saw on Sunday appeared to have been feeding in there, it and presumably others would be lurking in there somewhere. So on a dreary, rainy morning I arrived at the Woodstock entrance to Blenheim, paid my money, parked the car and walked around the awe inspiring Palace and into the gardens behind. Probably due to my being there at opening time which is 10am, and the weather being bad, the gardens, fortuitously, were deserted. I had the run of them with no one, not even a gardener in sight.
Three bulky shapes were the first things I saw in the very top of a huge tree, and they were? -------------- Hawfinches. OK, £9.00 lighter in the pocket but an instant result for which I was happy and it was not over yet. After looking at these three for a while I carried on down the path and another one was in the top of yet another tall tree. I stopped and yet others flew up from the ground until there were five more in the tree tops. They appeared to have been either feeding on the ground or low down in various dense bushes, unseen by me. It always seems such a paradox that a hunky, robust finch such as this is so shy and retiring. I then located a splendid male, all grey nape and golden brown plumage, who sat for ages in, you guessed it, the top of another tall tree, eventually being joined by a female. The quiet ticking calls of Hawfinches were everywhere around me. The pair I was watching flew off deeper into the gardens. I turned to retrace my steps and a flock of seven flew over me towards the Palace never to be seen again. After about 1045 I could not find sight or sound of any of them. Where they went to I have no idea but the gardens are obviously to the Hawfinches liking, possibly because they are relatively quiet and secluded, especially first thing and are only open to the public from mid morning. I calculated that I had seen around eighteen Hawfinches. Twenty Redwings flew over and a Raven cronked in the distance. A House Martin was prospecting the Palace buildings as I made my way back to the car and ChiffChaffs were singing by the lake.
With the disappearance of the enigmatic Hawfinches I decided to round off my morning by visiting Farmoor. A grey and gloomy reservoir greeted me with very little apparent in the way of birdlife apart from thousands of Black headed Gulls feeding on the hatching flies on both reservoirs, accompanied by two Little Gulls. The grassy bank by the treatment works was temporary home to two splendid male Yellow Wagtails. The vividness of their yellow plumage always takes me by surprise. They look just like over-sized dandelions nestling in the green grass and are a true harbinger of Spring
The Causeway was devoid of passerine birdlife. A lone drake Gadwall flew over it from one reservoir to the other and a second winter Greater Black backed Gull sped down the strengthening southwest wind. Sadly there was no sign of the summer plumaged Water Pipit anywhere. I wandered onwards and found two male White Wagtails along the wave wall of Farmoor Two, at the far end of the Causeway.
I planned to walk around Farmoor Two but shortly afterwards met up with Dai (see his blog "The Insomniac Birder") and he told me there was little to see so I persuaded him to give me a lift back to the Car Park. Just as we were about to leave Nick Hallam, watching from the far side of Farmoor Two, phoned to alert us to the presence of a couple of Arctic Terns plus one or more Common Terns, in amongst the throng of Black headed Gulls. We soon found them and I had the pleasure of making a re-acquaintance with Arctic Terns. My first for this year. Such beautiful and delicate birds that make such an incredible migratory journey every year.
So it was then back home to find the feeders stripped of seed, again. I was just remarking to my wife about how the 'bloody' Starlings hog the feeders and are costing me a fortune when a Starling's distress call came through the open kitchen door, clearly emanating from the driveway outside. I rushed out fearing a cat had got another victim but no, it was a male Sparrowhawk, clutching a very much alive Starling. It could hardly lift it and on seeing me flew heavily, for a few metres down the drive, still clutching the squealing Starling, which it then dunked in a deep puddle to drown it. I rushed back into the kitchen for the camera but they had gone in the matter of moments I was absent. Now I feel sorry for Starlings!