Tuesday 13 February 2018

Yet more Hawfinches 12th February 2018

I doubt there will be another winter like this in in my lifetime concerning Hawfinches, so I determined to make the most of it and made a return trip to Romsey today, buoyed with enthusiasm after my success with the Hawfinches there last Wednesday.

Today was virtually identical to the day last week when I  travelled to Romsey, in that I left my home on a clear and frosty night, still in the dark at 6am, traversed roads south that were again uncongested despite it being a working Monday, arriving at Mercer Way, the unprepossessing road in an unremarkable housing estate two hours later on a cold and sunny morning and under similar blue skies.  Even one of the same photographers from last week, with many thousands of pounds of equipment was again in situ at the end of the earthen track already eyeing the 'sacred' puddle. We briefly bid each other good morning before he and his equipment disappeared under some camouflaged netting for the rest of the day. 

Cammo Man!
This however was where any similarities to my previous visit came to a stop. Stationed overlooking the famed puddle I waited expectantly for the Hawfinches to appear but it was deadly quiet. Not a sign or sound of them came from the cherry trees in the small copse by the track

The earthen track and the puddle with the copse on the right
The same confiding Robin still hopped endearingly around my feet and today a couple of Long tailed Tits were already nest building, stripping lichen from some twigs close by and flying to a bank of brambles where presumably they were constructing their marvel of a nest. A pair of Bullfinches nibbled burgeoning buds at the top of a cherry tree before the male dropped to the ground to drink from a tiny puddle at the further end of the track.This did not augur well as the Hawfinches, if they ever turned up might well do the same in which case they would be distant rather than close.

An hour, probably more passed and only two Blackbirds, a Woodpigeon and a Collared Dove had shown any inclination to drink from the puddle. Not one finch of any sort had appeared. 

I tried to cheer myself with the fact it was early yet so hope still sprang eternal but I had a sinking feeling that it was not going to go well and then as if to confound my pessimism a Hawfinch dropped down from the trees but instead of coming to the favoured puddle decided to have a drink from a much smaller puddle further away up the track. It was there only briefly, a male, and then flew off into the copse.

Slowly the numbers of birders and photographers built up until there were well over double the number that were here last time, all standing or sitting around  me. I suppose it is inevitable that with the rapid and widespread dissemination of information and photos on social media any site such as this will soon become well known and popular.Today there were just too many of us in my opinion  and I felt certain this would deter any birds coming to the puddle and regrettably so it proved to be.

Birders and/or photographers,You can never tell which these
days as everyone seems to have a camera now
Not even the ever present Chaffinches came to drink and shuffle about on the track which was quite unlike last time. A Goldfinch dropped down to drink from the puddle but immediately fled on seeing all of us ranged nearby across the track.

Everyone despite the endless wait was well behaved and kept silent for the most part but as the hours passed it was becoming increasingly obvious that  the birds were not coming to the puddle.There had been a lot of rain on the weekend so probably they had more puddles to choose from and that were less exposed. There was also a lot more disturbance from the general public than last week and I realised that this week was half term for the local schools as evidenced by numerous kids on bikes or messing around on the playground equipment and consequently making quite a lot of noise.The dog walkers were also out in force and as per usual there were the occasional spectacular incidences of selfish behaviour visA lady despite seeing us stood at the end of the track insisted on walking straight down the track towards us with her labrador, which diverted to sniff at and then bare its teeth at 'Cammo Man' hidden below his netting before owner and dog both moved on. She could quite easily, as others more considerate did, have taken an alternative route.

There were very sporadic visits from Hawfinches to feed on the ground by the edge of the track but always at the far end and they never looked like coming closer, preferring to feed on the edge or in the heart of the narrow copse where undoubtedly they felt more secure.

                                      Distant Hawfinches
Finally a quiet period arrived with little extraneous disturbance and the birds seemed settled and a couple of Hawfinches looked like they might come down to the ground near to us. We waited, tense and alert. Could this be the moment? But no, just at this crucial moment a lady with a voice that could alert shipping in the Channel, judging by the volume at which she shouted at her out of control  dogs, and completely oblivious of us, allowed them to run riot through the copse and around us and flush everything. Three Hawfinches rocketed out of the copse and over my head and disappeared at speed into the blue yonder.

Steve another Oxonbirder had arrived earlier as also had Bob, another friend from Sussex. We rolled our eyes in exasperation.Surely it could not get worse but as if to add to our woe a friendly cat then strolled out of the bushes. Apparently it is somewhat of a celebrity around these parts but I am afraid its celebrity did not save it from our displeasure and it got the message and departed.

After these distractions the wait just went on and on, continuously frustrating. Occasionally I could hear Hawfinches calling but they were up in the tall trees and not about to come anywhere near us. Then it all went very quiet. Noon arrived. I had been here four hours and achieved one reasonable view of a Hawfinch on the ground. One o clock, two o clock came and went and still nothing. Six hours had now passed.

Standing surrounded by my fellow birders I noticed that some Chaffinches were dropping down from the trees on the other side of the copse to feed in the grass. Just dark shapes but birds nonetheless. My experiences with Hawfinches at Parkend in the Forest of Dean told me that where the Chaffinches came down to feed so also might the Hawfinches, the two seem to go together in winter where they are both present. 

The other side of the narrow small copse was the other main area that was meant to be a good place to look for and watch the Hawfinches but up to now it had also been heavily disturbed by dog walkers and some birders who should have known better.  By now I had determined to leave  but decided that I would make my exit via the other side of the copse which was less than fifty metres away. Well you never know. Last time I was here there was a Hawfinch feeding with the Chaffinches in the grass under the trees at that very spot.

Quietly I bade farewell to Steve and Bob and walked the short distance to the far side of the copse. A dozen Chaffinches were feeding in the grass just below the overhanging cherry trees but there was no Hawfinch with them this time. I was, however, entirely on my own so waited quietly to see if anything would happen as I could hear Hawfinches calling all around me. It did, A dog walker walked straight over the grass fully aware of my presence and the Chaffinches fled into the trees!

With patience and forebearance now about running on empty I was about to give in when I heard the familar tzik tzik call of a Hawfinch and one flew over my head, a hazy impression of bulk, coloured orange and brown with white wing bars and a white tipped tail, to settle in a cherry tree and then miraculously, the same bird, a superb male, dropped full square into the grass not thirty feet from me.

Six and a half hours and at last here was the prize and what a beauty he was as he searched out cherry stones in the grass, digging them out from the leaf mould and grass and holding the large stones in his huge bill before manipulating them in his mandibles to apply the incredible pressure of which they are capable, to crack them open. Only a Hawfinch can deal with these hard stones, no other finch has the capability. He dealt with them efficiently and dexterously cracking several while I watched and clicked away with the camera.This was more like it and for five minutes he fed in the grass and all was well.

Then yet another dog walker walked straight across the grass towards the Hawfinch and Chaffinches and flushed all the birds.What is it with these people? They know absolutely what we birders are doing and can see us clearly but apparently they feel they have the privilege to go wherever they wish without any consideration. It really does annoy me as it is totally unnecessary and by now everyone from the housing estate knows why the birders are here. 

I went back to the other birders, who were still maintaining a dogged and unsuccessful vigil by the puddle and whispered to Steve about the Hawfinch I had just seen and suggested he come to my new location but delay his departure for a few minutes otherwise everyone would follow and we would have the same situation as currently existed by the puddle. Steve duly arrived five minutes later and Bob a few minutes after that. Sadly no more Hawfinches came down onto the grass but they did come into the trees close by and onto the leaf litter nearby in the copse and we got some prolonged and very good views of what appeared to be exclusively males. To my mind the Hawfinches here are more tolerant of disturbance than is usual with this species. Possibly it is because they encounter people so regularly in such a small space that they have learnt to be less fearful.  

Under normal circumstances in a normal year the views we were getting of the Hawfinches perched in the trees  and feeding in the fallen leaves would have been more than acceptable but this year is exceptional and I have been spoilt with the fabulous encounters I have had this winter with this special bird.

Oh! and one last snippet to put the icing on the cake, so to speak. While watching the Hawfinches in the trees a tiny bird flitted briefly at eye level around some ivy hanging from a tree trunk. Goldcrest? No, it looked too bright and checking in my bins I laid eyes on a Firecrest, surely one of the most beautiful of all British birds but today coming a distinct second to a Hawfinch.

1 comment:

  1. You're addicted, man! :oD Here's to a good session tomorrow! ;o)