Monday, 2 December 2019

Number One

My top 10 natural history events of the last five years has reached its conclusion...

1. The Hawfinch irruption in Surrey, 2017-18
It had to be, didn't it - you do not get to witness many unprecedented ornithological events in a lifetime. The Hawfinch irruption of 2017-18 was truly remarkable. The first suggestion that 'something was going on' started in early October, when larger than usual numbers of this big-billed finch were being recorded across the (mainly) southern part of England. This in itself would have been enough to rewrite the perceived status of migrant Hawfinches, but it didn't stop there. Many stopped off to winter, and here I was very lucky indeed. Firstly, I had the time. Secondly, I had the bit between my teeth. And thirdly I lived right in the thick of it, as the largest Hawfinch gatherings ever recorded in Britain decided to haunt the yew-clad slopes of the North Downs in 'my' part of Surrey.

I spent a great deal of January, February and March 2018 hunting Hawfinch. It became an obsession and it paid off. I located birds at over 25 localities and recorded 6,327 bird days. On February 22nd my day total was of 705 individuals. On March 13th my morning was enlivened by a single flock of 600 birds. Within a three-mile radius of the Mole Gap I am confident that there were over a thousand present. Minimum.  Bramblehall Wood became a site of celebrity, hosting hundreds between early February until early April, and enticed many birders to traverse the undulating, muddy footpath to join in the Hawfinch-fest. Personal counts made during this unforgettable event were:

2017   Headley Heath
A single on 10 October, 32 on 31 October, 26-35 on 1 November, 20+ on 6 November, 15 on 13 November, 12 on 4 December, two on 22 December
          Juniper Bottom, nr Box Hill
          Six flew north-west on 15 October
          Nork, Banstead
          Five (a four and a one) flew east over the back garden on 16 October
          Canons Farm, Banstead
          A single flew south on 25 November
2018   Mickleham Downs
c20 on wooded slopes due east of village on 9 January; six on 10 January; 10 on 13 January, 16 on 6 February, 40+ on 8 February, 22 on 12 February; four on 16 February; seven on 17 February; 46 on 13 March; 80 on 20 March; 14 on 26 March; one on 1 April
          Juniper Top/Ashurst Rough
Two on 10 January, 70+ on 29 January, 200+ on 30 January, a single in song on 4 February, c50 on 12 February; 66 on 15 March; three on 27 October
          Headley Heath
          A single on 18 January
          Bramblehall Wood
c20 on 4 February, 47 on 6 February, 17 on 8 February, 170 on 10 February, 145 on 12 February, 260 on 14 February; 250 on 16 February; 300 on 17 February; 255+ on 19 February; five on 21 February; 420 on 22 February; 260 on 26 February; 325+ on 5 March; 600 on 13 March; 550 on 20 March; 275 on 26 March; 200 on 1 April; three on 9 April
          Dorking Woods
          27 on 6 Feb; 115+ on 18 Feb; 250+ on 22 Feb; four on 23 Feb; 30+ on 26 Feb; 90 on 7 March; 30 on 11; 22 on 22nd
          High Ashurst
          Four on 16 February
          Bagden Farm
          Two on 18 February
          Chapelhill Wood
          Three on 18 February; two on 7 March; seven on 11 March; 20 on 22 March
          Polesden Lacey
          14 on 18 February; 13 on 22 February; three on February 23; two on 7 March; one on 22 March
          Ranmore Common
          30+ on 18 February; four on 22 February; two on February 23; six on 7 March; 37 on 11 March; six on 22 March
          Freehold Wood
          18 on 18 February; two on 11 March; one on 22 March
          Betchworth Hills
          11 on 5 March
          Brockham Quarry
          Two on 5 March; four on 26 March
          Lodge Hill
          Five on 5 March; 24 on 15 March; five on 20 March; two on 26 March; 17 on 1 April
          Juniper Bottom
          123 on 13 March; 249 on 15 March; 50 on 20 March; eight on 1 April
          Box Hill
          35 on 15 March; c40 on 16 March; 16 on 20 March; two on 22 March; 12 on 26 March
          Banstead Wood
          Two on 18 March
          Middlehill Wood
          85 on 20 March
          Ashcombe Wood
          Four on 18 March
          Norbury Park
          Five on 18 March
          Bagden Wood
          Two on 22 March
          Betchworth Quarry
          Three on 26 March
          Canons Farm, Banstead
          Four flew east on 14 April

If you would like to read more, please go to the right-hand tab at the top of the blog (underneath the header) titled 'Hawfinch Corner' which contains a couple of papers that go into far more detail.

This image is courtesy of Peter Alfrey, taken at Bramblehall Wood


Tim Saunders said...

Truly unforgettable, especially at Bramblehall Wood, so thank you for the tip off. Clouds of yew dust and a flock of finches including a few fairly confiding.

Steve Gale said...

Ah yes Tim - the clouds of pollen coming off of the Yew! Some days it looked like the trees were smouldering!

Ric said...

Without wanting to bring competition into the situation Steve, I think it is safe to say that you can claim to have seen more Hawfinch in Britain than anyone since records began.

Steve Gale said...

Now there’s a thought Ric...