Monday, 11 March 2013

My Hawfinches?

Possessiveness is a funny thing – it can even infiltrate your birding...

On Saturday I was lucky enough to find a flock of a dozen Hawfinches at Juniper Bottom, close to Mickleham. Hawfinches are one of my favourite species, no doubt partly because of their unpredictability and elusiveness. Anyhow, I alerted the local birding scene and was soon joined by David Campbell, Phil and Jamie. Alas, by the time the ornithological cavalry arrived, the birds had departed.

Yesterday, David returned (he is, if nothing else, persistent) and was treated to a minimum of a hundred Hawfinches. He phoned me from Juniper Bottom in a state of shock. I went back in the afternoon, but the birds had once more cleared off. But not the birders. There were three groups, and by and large they were all decent chaps, but this unsettled me. Whenever I have been to Juniper Bottom in the past (admittedly looking for plants and butterflies), other birders have not been a part of the scene. They had, of course, every right to be there. In fact one of them, Nick Unwin, was a thoroughly nice bloke and we had quite an interesting chat.

Mentions of these birds appeared on the internet, in bird forums, on news feeds, on blogs. ‘My’ Hawfinches had become public property and I didn’t like it. This is quite a strange reaction, I must admit. I’m glad others have seen the birds (particularly David) but cannot pretend to like a mini birding invasion on one of ‘my’ patches or the joint-ownership of ‘my’ birds. The truth is it isn’t my place or my birds. It just feels as if they are. This isn't an advocation of suppression - I like sharing in any find that I make. I suppose it is an admission that the personal contact that is made with nature (such as stumbling across a Hawfinch flock when you are not expecting it) is sullied a little when it (or they) become a shared event.


  1. Hi Steve. No a strange reaction. Quite normal. I understand how you feel. Like to share, don't want wildlife swamped by photographers. But once you share it's out of your control.
    I actually gain more enjoyment finding a plant myself than tracking it down following someone's instructions - someone who saw it yesterday or last week. (But must say if the instructions are for the previous season or before that (Victorian botanists!) the enjoyment is less sullied - and in the case of tracking something down from very old records - it's immensely increased!)
    I advocate sharing records - otherwise I wouldn't blog my finds (a caveat to that is taking into account sensitivity of species to disturbance). But Steve & I have come across local naturalists who are incredibly resistant to sharing, in fact are downright secretive - nail bitingly frustrating! Why not share privately with fellow botanists?
    I tend to feel protective of 'my patch' if something is sensitive, but still share those records with appropriate people. And I'd have shared the hawfinches.
    I must admit to 'mentioning''your' hawfinches on RSPB Volunteering Facebook page today :-( Sorry about that....

  2. Totally reasonable emotion, Steve. Suddenly there's no room to park your car, when previously you were the only one there. It takes good naturalist like yourself, however, to highlight phenomena such as this massive flock of Hawfinches. Without people pointing out sightings of unusual birds, most people would never see them. It also proves how little of the countryside in Britain is watched that closely (or disclosed, in some cases).

    I know there are pairs of Goshawk somewhere in Surrey, but have no idea where to look to watch these magnificent birds. Somewhere near Leith Hill, I think. Similarly, Honey Buzzard breed in Surrey most years – so I'm told. No idea where though. It's probably due to the threat of egg snatchers news is, quite rightly, kept under wraps.

  3. Hi Mel and Neil, thanks for your comments. I suppose part (and it is a big part) of my enjoyment out in the field is getting away from it all, taking time to enjoy the environment, winding down from a week of being desk-bound and taking on the thrill of seeing what there is to be seen. This all gets messed up a bit when there are a larger cast of characters about to add noise to the proceedings. Hence my edging away from coastal hot-spots, sewage farms and even Canons Farm. I'm not anti-social, I just like to pick and choose when I'm with people when I'm out and about.

  4. Hello Steve,
    I completely understand; a place where you escape to for unique moments of connection with the environment loses that special feeling when a crowd is drawn. I find this particularly disconcerting in winter when said crowd are attired in anoraks and multi-pocketed jackets... not sure why, perhaps it feels more geeky and forced. Ironic really that I also get bouts of despondency when out about on my own unable to share a nat history moment with other enthusiasts!

  5. Hi Rachel, I do share in the irony of wanting others to share in what I see/find but then would like them all to go away...

    1. Ah right! Have you tried asking them nicely?