When I went to see the Hawfinches at Parkend in the Forest of Dean earlier this month I vowed to go back. The weather forecast for this morning was good, predicting sunshine, so I made the one hour drive back to the Forest with hopes of renewing my acquaintance with this enigmatic and delightful bird.
I decided on an early start at 5.30am in order to be there for dawn, so my departure from a frosty Kingham found me, one hour later, parking in the lane by the Yews that encompass the small Village Green at Parkend and unsurprisingly I had the place to myself. It was just about light by the time I got to Parkend, such a change from three weeks ago when it did not get light until around an hour later.
This time I took a bag of peanuts and sunflower seeds to spread on the ground below the Yews as an enticement for the Hawfinches but I need not have bothered as there was already a liberal sprinkling of food from birders who had visited on previous days
This location is now widely known amongst birders and photographers and many come here knowing that here is the best chance of getting good views of the Hawfinches. Generally everyone knows how to behave and to remain in their cars but inevitably there are those that either do not care or are unaware that to see the Hawfinches close to and on the ground requires a lot of patience and the use of a car as a hide.
I sat in the car with the window open and at just before 7am I heard the distinctive twik twik twik call of a Hawfinch and a female flew into the old Yew just metres from me on the other side of the lane. It did not waste any time and almost immediately descended onto a rock that had some seed scattered in its concave top. It was joined by a Coal Tit which true to type grabbed a seed and fled back into the security of the Yew whilst the Hawfinch remained on the rock and carried on grinding seed in its huge and very powerful mandibles.
This female, whilst much duller than the male, was almost in full breeding plumage and the pale bill of winter had changed to the colour of pewter in readiness for the breeding season. And what a bill it is.Your eyes are just drawn to it as it is so massive and requires a huge muscled head to operate the mandibles. It dominates the bird's profile as the short legs and tail only add to the top heavy impression.
After a few minutes the Hawfinch flew up into the Yew and then made periodic appearances, assuming it was the same one, over the next hour. In between appearances of the Hawfinch it got quite busy under the Yew with other birds coming to take advantage of the seed and peanut bonanza. Coal Tits, tiniest of all the visitors flew down and grabbed a seed from the ground and were gone. Around ten or so Chaffinches shuffled about under the Yew picking at the seeds and a Robin ticked its annoyance at all the disturbance caused by these avian interlopers.
There were also others taking advantage of the free food. Grey Squirrels gathered up peanuts and took them off to be buried for another day and even a sheep came running across The Green to hoover up as much of the peanuts and seed as it could before it was chased off by an irate birder who had only just thrown some seed down on the ground.
Most engaging of all were a pair of Nuthatches that seemed set on removing every sunflower seed or peanut they could find and stuffing them in various cracks and crannies in the trunks of the Yews. Time and again they descended to pick up a seed or nut and fly off with it. Constantly busy and adopting their characteristic 'head down looking out' posture they were a pleasant and attractive diversion as I waited for the Hawfinches to re-appear.
I estimated there were in the region of around a dozen Hawfinches spread out around The Green and feeding under the Yews but where I was situated I only saw two females near me. It is strange how much more prominent the females are than the males but that is the way it is this year. There are males present, as I could see them distantly under other Yews and one very briefly came to 'my' Yew but frustratingly just as it arrived a birder's car turning into the lane caused it to fly off again. Never mind, any Hawfinch is good to see so there were no complaints from me about the preponderance of females.
It is very hard to see Hawfinches in the Yews, as being ultra shy birds they remain secreted in the darkest depths of the foliage but just occasionally they gave glimpses of themselves perched in the Yew but it was on the ground, feeding, that almost invariably they revealed themselves
I was alone until around 9am and then other birders arrived in cars and it soon became more than a little crowded. Inevitably with the disturbance of cars coming and going not to mention dog walkers, joggers, mountain bikers and pedestrians the Hawfinches became much harder to see.
I stuck it out for another hour but there was just too much human activity and the Hawfinches either retreated to the very topmost branches of the high trees or left altogether for quieter surrounds.
The sun went in and it commenced to rain. Reluctantly I recognised that the show was over and I retreated to the welcome warmth and friendly atmosphere of the nearby Postage Stamp Cafe for a skinny latte and bacon roll.
Then it was time to bid farewell to the Forest of Dean and its Hawfinches once again.