2nd February 2015 – Hawfinch Spectacular

After a busy weekend of tours, Monday was supposed to be a day off. But with the mixed weather conditions we are ‘enjoying’ at the moment, a mostly dry and at times even sunny day couldn’t be wasted, so I headed down to the Brecks. The main intention was to check up on what the Goshawks were up to, but I would also get the opportunity to visit a couple of other sites afterwards.

It was a later than normal start, but I had not been on site long before a male Goshawk appeared. It was only a very brief view, as it powered through the tops of the trees and disappeared away, presumably off to hunt somewhere. While there was some clear sky around, there was a lot of low cloud to the south which meant the sun was struggling to come out, leaving the air temperature still rather cold after the very hard frost overnight. There was plenty of raptor activity and Common Buzzards circling above the trees pretty much non-stop, but they were not getting very high in the cold air. A female Sparrowhawk circled up and delivered a brief and half-hearted burst of display before flying off.

By late morning the air temperature picked up just a touch. Distantly, over the trees, two large birds were chasing through the tops. Getting them in the scope, I could see what looked like an adult male Goshawk chasing a brown-backed immature (2cy) male. Eventually, the young bird flew off and the adult disappeared back into the trees. As I looked back to the circling Buzzards, a differently shaped bird came up from the tops amongst them. Its distinctive Accipiter shape and size not much smaller than the Buzzards instantly gave its identity away – a big adult female Goshawk. It made a couple of aggressive swoops towards the lowest circling Buzzard before dropping back into the trees.

With the morning getting on and the air warming, I thought it might be worth a look at Santon Downham. However, it was possibly a bit late in the day by the time I got there, as the best time is often earlier. Woodpecker activity was low – apparently a couple of Great Spotted Woodpeckers had been drumming half-heartedly earlier on, but had now given up. A Kingfisher sat by the river bank before flying off in a flash of electric blue. There were lots of Siskins, Redwings, Nuthatches and tits, but no sign of the Great Grey Shrike again today.

Round at Lynford, I had a quick bite of lunch before walking out into the Arboretum. The usual gaggle of photographers was standing inert by the gate, chatting, and had not seen any Hawfinches for a while. I moved along a little further and scanned the ground and immediately picked up a Hawfinch feeding quietly just out of their view! I beckoned the crowd over and a second bird appeared even closer. We had stunning views of it feeding for several minutes on the ground just in front of us. What a cracker – and a real privilege to have such great views of so scarce and shy a bird. Some fill-the-frame video of it feeding can be found HERE.

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Eventually, someone walking along the path spooked it and it flew up into the trees. The two Hawfinches did drop down again and continued to feed in the leaves, but further back now. Having been spoilt by the earlier experience, I walked on around the Arboretum. There were lots of Siskin, tits, Nuthatches and Treecreepers in the trees, and several Brambling feeding with the Chaffinches. As I walked round the back, along the edge of the Stanford Training Area, a group of five stocky birds flew in over the trees. A quick look through my binoculars confirmed another group of Hawfinches – the heavy tan-brown body, flashing lots of white in wings and short tail, and heavy head and bill. They appeared to be heading towards the same area the first two birds had been feeding earlier. I walked back, but there was no sign of them there. Still buzzing from the earlier views, it seemed a good moment to call it a day.

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