|Juniper Top eastern slope - home to Hawfinches|
This footpath, when it reaches Upper Farm Leisure Park, comes to a fork. I took the left hand (eastern) turn that took me down the slope and back onto the lower Ashurst Rough - Juniper Top track. After 100m the southern end of Bramblehall Wood is clearly in view, so I scanned along in perfect sunny light and immediately found at least 30 Hawfinches perched on tree tops. After edging down to the fence to get the clearest view possible and watching them for several minutes, these birds took off and started flying along the woodland edge towards me, and as they did so birds began to peel off from the nearby Yews and joined them. This swollen flock was augmented by further birds that had been out of view, and then a final burst as a flock of 60 strong came from behind them. A minimum of 140 Hawfinches were in the air together, directly in front of me and all in bright sunshine - a blizzard of white wing bars and tails, caramels buffs and greys. It was one of the most exhilarating moments in over 44 years of birding. They carried on heading southwards, the birds dispersing between 'The Birches' and the southern end of Ashurst Rough.
I walked back along the lower footpath in a beatific daze. Frequent scanning revealed a further five Hawfinches in Bramblehall Wood, remnants of a force that had departed (hopefully momentarily) southwards. The slope up to Juniper Top still held Hawfinches though. The 'ticks', 'sips' and 'squeaks' built up, and, just like earlier in the morning I found myself surrounded by a loose flock of c35 birds. There were a further c15 birds at the northern end of the wood at the start of the open hill top.
The last site to check, in a very lazy fashion, was Mickleham Downs, which I did from the footpath that runs between Juniper Bottom and Cockshot Cottage. Seven were found. What a morning...
I have now been fortunate in seeing big numbers on three occasions - 200 on Jan 30th (Juniper Top - Ashurst Rough), 170 on February 10th (Bramblehall Wood) and 140 today. This has taken many hours of slogging the footpaths. What seems to be happening is that the general area is holding at least 200 birds, which normally spread out across the Bramblehall - Ashurst - Juniper Top sites, and at times come together. The fact that I'm the lucky so-and-so who is seeing these amalgamations is just because I'm there a lot of the time. I reckon for the greatest chance of numerical success it's best to find a clear view across to Bramblehall Wood (maybe halfway along) and wait. It took me over two hours this morning to see the large numbers, and they were at the very south of the wood that I don't usually check.
These are exciting times.