Thursday, 22 February 2018

Blessed


Blessed. There is no other word for it. This Hawfinch invasion continues to ramp up in northern Surrey and I am lucky enough to have been in the middle of it...

Dawn at Bramblehall Wood. The lower footpath has never looked so used. Position taken up against the fence, looking out across the field at the southern section of the wood and - crucially - up and down the valley (above). By 07.30 only c80 birds had shown, listlessly perched up, little movement taking place until they dribble away. Beginning to wonder if they are finally moving on, but then look down the valley northwards. Bloody hell, look at that lot perched up at the very top of the tree line - there must be hundreds! Edge down to get a better vantage point and start to count at the same time as they slowly - ever so slowly - start to move along the woodland edge southwards. They are going at a steady rate, not too many at once to confuse the count, a veritable conveyer belt of Hawfinches. I start to get edgy as 300 approaches, mindful that there are still birds in the trees to come. At 400 I secretly let out a cheer and, when 420 has been counted, all hell breaks lose - a massive 'whoosh' of wings alerts me to an enormous flock of 300+ birds that have returned and are now breaking up above my head, scattering in all directions, many of them back to where they had just come. There is little option but to abandon the count now. I am, quite frankly, stunned.

Although it is still early (08.15-ish) there is no hanging about. I want to check all of the sites where I have recorded Hawfinches over the past week and the largest flock (away from Bramblehall) was seen before 09.30hrs. By 09.00hrs parked up at Denbigh's Hillside NT and walking towards Dorking Wood (via footpath opposite St. Barnabas Church). Once in the wood the familiar ticks and seeps start up and am soon watching c30 Hawfinches, but they are mobile and quickly move away. When exiting the wood on the Bagden Farm footpath a scan along the wood's edge reveals a good flock in the same trees as where they were last Sunday. A quick count makes 60, but then, just like at Bramblehall earlier, Hawfinch mayhem breaks out. Two large flocks fly in from opposite directions, swarming around the perched finches and then leave in one mass of 170, back into the woods. I watch them go and then check for any remaining perched birds - there are 80! A minimum of 250 Hawfinches present. And that's not taking into account the 30 earlier. This is all getting a bit silly.

To cut it short I then looked at Chapelhill Wood (none), Freehold Wood (18), Polesden Lacey (formal garden, 13) and Ranmore Common (4).

This morning's Hawfinch total was 705 birds.  Bloody ridiculous. Just like the Bramblehall birds, the Dorking Wood Hawfinches would appear to show best in the early morning. The other sites mentioned in the paragraph above adjoin the same valley as Dorking Wood. Frequent glances along its length produced the odd Hawfinch flying over or perched in view. They really are that easy here and no doubt there are still more to be found.

15 comments:

  1. That's just so brilliant! Where have they all come from?

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  2. I pop in here for my daily Hawfinch fix and find the numbers have rocketed again! Yowsers Steve! Fancy hitting 400+ on a flock count - that’s just bonkers! Your descriptions bring it alive and bring us along with you. Awesome and altogether wonderful. I daren’t imagine how much longer the magic will last.

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  3. That's kind Lucy. It is magical, but the magic may only last a few more weeks - mid-March is when the flocks supposedly break up, bit I hope that a few will stay with us.

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  4. Just amazing Steve. I wonder how long until you reach 1000?

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    1. In a day? That's out of reach I would think, but there must be over 1,000 currently in the county.

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  5. Steve I can't believe I'm still reading these posts, my anger has returned!
    Congratulations on the 400 flock and 700 overall! Incredible and frustrating.

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    1. They are still there Arjun, but you need to get up early!

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  6. I'm happy to get up as early as necessary. The rest of family - not so much...

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    1. Tell them it's a once in a lifetime spectacle, Arjun, as it might well turn out to be..!

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  7. For those of us not local, is there any chance of seeing any hawfinches later in the day?

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    1. Very few birds at Bramblehall Maria, but there might be a better chance in the Dorking Wood area, but that is based on guesswork as all my visits there have been in the morning.

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  9. another excellent write-up Steve in what will surely become the definitive account of Hawfinches in the UK in 2017-18

    this seems as good a place as any to look at overall population numbers. The RSPB has on its site what are presumably pre-2017 estimates of 500-1000 nesting pairs and 10,000-15,000 wintering birds. Surely these numbers are far too high. Last year there were large crowds gathering daily for a roost of about 30 Hawfinches in Norfolk at Lynford. there were odd numbers at Braxted in Essex and Bramfield in Herts, and we all know of the few at Sizergh Castle, the numbers in the New Forest and Forest of Dean and odd ones that lurked in churchyards in the south-west but these numbers are well short of 1,000 birds never mind 10,000. Hawfinches haven't bred around Herts/Essex for years apart from maybe the odd one or two so that breeding population looks unlikely too.

    Surely it is clear after this winter that if there had been 1,000 Hawfinches in the UK we would have known about it? Paradoxically it is only because those RSPB numbers might now be in the right ball park that we can see they were far too high previously. Or were there large numbers lurking that people had kept quiet about or didn't know about?

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  10. Thank you DD for your kind words! I agree with you that the RSPB wintering numbers seem very high. Maybe this irruption that we have witnessed will help nudge their nesting pair estimate up a bit.

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