Bored of Hawfinches yet? Thought so. Never mind, they'll soon be gone.
This morning I arrived on the footpath opposite Bramblehall Wood just as it was getting light. I walked all the way down to the southern end, seeing no Hawfinches at all until I got there. Maybe 20 were perched up high, and over the following few minutes I was able to watch birds join them, surprisingly from all directions of the compass, in singles and small flocks. Most of them arrived from the south. They quickly built up and peeled off, flying across the field and into a Yew that I was standing underneath - my positioning was not down to luck as I had observed their preference of this particular tree yesterday.
The calls above my head grew in volume - other birds must have been joining them from behind me. And the calls were not just confined to the normal 'ticks' and 'seeps' but also all kinds of 'squeaks', 'hisses' and 'warbles'. The birds across the field in Bramblehall Wood continued to syphon across, but new birds continued to arrive there.
I then had one of those spine-tingling moments. A sudden and loud 'whoosh' materialised above my head - not unlike the noise you hear when a Starling murmuration changes direction - and I was aware of a dark blur in front of me. It was a flock of c150 Hawfinch, spooked from the Yews around me. They flew back across to the wood, to be joined by c50 that were perched up there. All alighted out of view. Within five minutes more birds joined the hidden flock from the north. At least 100 flew in. So that made 300. Slowly but surely these birds dribbled out back across the field and flew into a bank of Yew trees, using the bare trees higher up the slope as a vantage point.
I was joined by the Sells as well as Richard, Jan and Steve, Kevin and Robin. They reported an unbroken string of birds calling along a 400m stretch of the footpath back northwards. Were these new? Were they part of the super flock that I had witnessed? We will never truly know. For the next hour, in glorious sunshine, we, and other birders were royally entertained. They all experienced a 'wing-whoosh' of Hawfinches, when a flock of c120 fled up the valley and appeared to head off south-east. Things quietened down quickly today, with the large numbers not experienced beyond 10.30hrs.
To see the big flocks well enough to count, you need to be there early, at the southern end of the wood, and standing at the fence beneath the footpath. Most birders present today for any length of time recorded at least 50-100 birds, with Team Sell seeing 200. I really do believe that the true numbers of Hawfinches in this area is between 400-500. I (and others) cannot possibly have seen every bird present. You scan up and down the valley and along the top of the treeline and there are birds constantly in view. Mainly ones and twos, but then a flock of 20-30 - this goes on all morning. But I do not count them towards the day's total if I have already recorded large mobile flocks - they could be birds that I saw earlier. The big flocks just concentrate what is around in that particular part of the valley. The finding of a giant roost to be able to test this number theory is destined to fail I fear. Birds were arriving from all directions as it got light this morning, suggesting a number of different roosting locations.
My quest to try and find other woods with other Hawfinches has been derailed by these astonishing events. Tomorrow I might just forsake the lower muddy paths of Juniper Top and Ashurst Rough and look elsewhere. I have, in all seriousness, been having dreams about Hawfinches. They have become a bit of an obsession. It cannot be totally healthy...