|Surrey Hawfinch real estate|
I arrived just after 09.00hrs and walked up to the top via the Juniper Bottom path (scene of the 2013 large Hawfinch flock). I took it slowly, scanning the top of the valley, stopping and listening, but without success. Once I reached the top I then turned left and travelled along the flat path to the open and grassy heights at Juniper Top. Just before I reached the gate that takes you onto the chalk downland I heard a Hawfinch. I stopped and waited. Nothing. A few steps on I heard it again - no, maybe more than one - but deeper into the woods. I wandered into the undergrowth for maybe 25m and was aware that the vocals were getting stronger and more numerous. The odd shape was moving across the tree tops and, through my binoculars, confirmed them as being Hawfinches. But how many?
Leaning up against an enormous beech I took stock. The calls were now all around me and directly above. They were continual, and for such a weak call, quite loud - there were many birds calling at the same time. Both 'tick' and 'sip' calls were being made. In front of me were a number of mature bare Beech trees, with maybe half a dozen Yews in between them. It became apparent that quite a few of the Hawfinches were regularly visiting the Yews, and the comings and goings of the birds from Yew to Beech tops and back was constant. Any scan of the tree tops provided Hawfinches, although accurate counting was hampered by the denseness of the canopies, but I was reaching 10-20 birds on most scans, at the same time as many more birds were calling all around.
Birds were on view all the time. Most were high, partially hidden by branches, and those that came closer would pass quickly by. I didn't bother trying to get any pictures. The flock didn't once join en masse, rather small congregations would form, take to the air, circle round and land nearby, then make their way to the Yews. The largest grouping reached 45, at a time when I had seen a different flock of 20+ enter the Yews, while additional birds were calling in the area. A minimum of 70 birds were very much that - a minimum. These birds took little notice, allowing me to wander in amongst them.
I stayed with them for an hour. What a special, unforgettable hour it was.