This winter the Hawfinch (Coccothraustes coccothraustes), the UK’s biggest finch, with its hefty beak and mouthful of a scientific name has hit even the tabloid headlines as large numbers of countless flocks have made an appearance in various locations across the British Isles. They’re usually quite shy, scarce, and their traditional breeding areas have declined, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) reports, they’re really difficult to spot. In Autumn last year and into December, however, the papers were full of the “Hawfinch invasion” triggered by crop failures in mainland Europe. By November, the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) was reporting record numbers. Additionally, the orange sky and the red sun that Storm Ophelia (and other factors) brought to the UK also coincided with the Hawfinch irruption.
Anyway, while the RSPB’s headquarters at The Lodge, in Sandy, Bedfordshire was reporting that all of their Hawfinch had departed their land, there was a small flock (maybe up to about ten) at the National Trust’s Wimpole Hall (West South West of Cambridge) and about 12 kilometres East of The Lodge (as the Hawfinch flies). So, a quick trip to the NT on the off chance that they might still be there on 4th February. A Eurasian Jay (Garrulus glandarius) was hanging around the car park as were lots of Great and Blue Tits, a Greenfinch or two and what I assumed at a quick glance were merely chaffinches (they weren’t I now realise in retrospect).
Onwards and outwards we went with the dog in tow, skirting the periphery of the Hall’s extensive parkland hoping to catch sight of a Hawfinch or two on any berry-ridden trees that hadn’t been picked clean by Thrushes, Redwings, Fieldfares, and Blackbirds. A very refreshing two-hour circular walk, with Woodpeckers (green and great spotted, both heard but not seen), Treecreepers (lots seen) and a Nuthatch (and the usual range of Herons, waterfowl, Tits, Doves, Dunnocks, Thrushes, Corvids, and sheep etc) brought us back to the car park where a clutch of birders and photographers had gathered to photograph…you guessed…it Hawfinches.
There were two under a picnic table and one in a tree. So, at last, I got a shot at them. Still on the list though, those elusive Waxwings.