Wednesday 31 January 2018

Back to the Forest 31st January 2018

Well they say you should never go back as it will not be as good as the first time but in this notable year for Hawfinches and after such a resounding success last week, the lure of more communing with this lovely, bumper sized finch proved irresistible.

Early morning darkness was still enveloping Parkend as I drew up for another session with Coccothraustes coccothraustes.  As the sky slowly lightened I noticed that in the intervening  days between my last visit and this current one, photographers had been busy, as evidenced by a plethora of branches and perches artificially placed under the Yews to get that extra special shot.

If that is your thing then all well and good but I am happy just to see  any Hawfinches and, if chance permits, take their picture when they come to feed on the ground. The first hour brought nothing but other birders in their cars, arriving to occupy the most favourable four spaces in the lane. The second hour was almost as bad, as just Blackbirds, Dunnocks, Chaffinches, Robins and Great Tits were on show. Where were the Hawfinches?

Male Chaffinch
There seemed to be many less Hawfinches today than last week so maybe this contributed to the lack of action. In all I counted no more than six during my visit but others, of this most enigmatic of finches, could just as easily have been secreting themselves in the surrounding Yews without my noticing.

It was not looking at all good but then a number of Chaffinches descended from the Yews, which is always a good sign and shortly after, a male and female Hawfinch joined them. They drop suddenly with a noticeable brrrrrrr of wings and, for a few seconds, stand still and erect with extended necks and heads held absolutely still as they check that all is well. They are the epitomy of nervous tension at this moment, motionless amongst the relaxed and quietly feeding Chaffinches but the latter's calmness re-assures them and soon they too start feeding by picking up the scattered sunflower seeds.

I noticed that the male was ringed with a blue colour ring on its right leg, presumably ringed by Jerry who rings and studies them at various private sites in the Forest.*

*Jerry has told me it was ringed near Parkend on 11 April 2017

The colour ring on the male Hawfinch's right leg with metal
BTO ring on its left leg.

Male Hawfinch
The two Hawfinches were not present for long, maybe two or three minutes and then, as always happens here, something disturbed them and they flew up into the Yew, never to come down again.

The long periods of subsequent waiting and hoping for a Hawfinch to appear were enlivened by a Nuthatch  and its antics. Unwittingly it adopted beguilingly cute attitudes as it posed on branches and tree trunks surveying the ground, intent on collecting sunflower seeds to stash away in the nooks and crannies of the tall Beech trees across The Green. For a time a diminutive Coal Tit joined in, collecting its own seeds to similarly horde away.

Today, for whatever reason, the level of disturbance, which is inevitable at such a  public  and exposed site as Parkend was higher than I have known it at other times. Three Grey Squirrels were the first disruptive element on the scene, monopolising the  black sunflower seeds, a particular favourite of  the Hawfinches, that I had carefully distributed in the darkness and deterring any birdlife from coming anywhere near them. Then, believe it or not, five roaming sheep entered stage right and hoovered up all the bird seed another occupant from a car down the line had distributed. The sheep were chased off and we settled down for another spell of waiting but dog walkers, runners, joggers, bikers, horse riders and even the local postman coming past, all  did their unwitting best to contrive to turn the lane into a Hawfinch 'no go' zone.

An undisturbed spell finally arrived and two female Hawfinches eventually descended to feed for all of thirty seconds before they too were disturbed by someone who just could not remain in their car. He was 'advised' to get back in his car by some other birders in the car in front of me but it was too late.The Hawfinches had gone.

Female Hawfinch
It was now eleven in the morning and I estimated I had seen Hawfinches for no more than three minutes in four hours of watching. To add to this purgatory the sheep returned and sat under the Yews. More than a  little fractious from the regular interruptions and consequent lack of Hawfinches my patience was being severely tested until I could take no more. It was just too annoying and for my peace of mind I headed to the nearby Cannop Ponds to look for Mandarin Ducks, the exotic and resident celebrities of this unremarkable stretch of water. I counted ten, all in pairs and as usual the drakes were dressed in a pantomime plumage of over the top finery and looking an absolute picture as they swam on the dull green, sun flecked water.

Mandarin Ducks
There were other ducks present too.The ubiquitous Mallards but also some Tufted Ducks, the heads of the males being transformed from black to glossed bottle green as the the sun's rays struck them at certain angles

Male Tufted Duck
Mission accomplished with the Mandarins I returned to the lane to see if anything had improved with the Hawfinches but my heart sank when I saw how many cars were now filling the lane with one man still  insisting on standing outside and beside his car  hoping to get a sight of the Hawfinches. He had absolutely no chance whatsoever and surely must have wondered why everyone else remained inside their cars.

I turned the car for home but not before availing myself of a coffee at the friendly Postage Stamp Cafe just across from the Cricket Green in Parkend. Maybe I will return to seek out the Hawfinches once again but not for a couple of weeks. Maybe I will not. We will see.

The problem is that Hawfinches this winter are receiving a lot more publicity than usual. The unprecedented invasion this winter of Hawfinches from mainland Europe is still being widely publicised and anyone with an interest in birds wants to see one no matter their level of competence. Even BBC's Winterwatch with the estimable Chris Packham and cohorts is giving Hawfinches maximum coverage. Also, Parkend is now so well known as an easily accessible and virtually guaranteed place to see Hawfinches that it is becoming self defeating and as more and more people learn of it and come, the less the shy Hawfinches are evident. 

It is no one's fault in this overcrowded island and everyone has a perfect right to come and see them and it would be wrong to begrudge anyone the thrill of seeing Hawfinches.

I think, though, I may need to find somewhere else.


  1. try Mercer Way in Romsey, 30+ there and some very close views

  2. I saw my first hawfinch there a couple of years ago - similar hawfinch vs time ratio, tho I was lucky it appeared reasonably early in the time I was there (the downside was that the light was still low). Shame that people didn't take the cue by staying in their cars....