Sunday, 4 March 2018

The real beast from the east

It seems to take an extreme weather event to get me out to my local patch at Swineham these days, and with the combined impacts of Storm Emma and the 'Beast from the East' bringing unusual blizzard conditions to Dorset, I felt sure it would be worth a look on Saturday morning. The walk from home to the gravel pits takes me through the graveyard of Wareham St Mary Church, the gate to which was frozen stuck. To circumvent this I stepped over a short wall and flushed a chunky finch from beneath a Yew Tree - Hawfinch!
Female Hawfinch - note the grey panel on the secondaries
Female Hawfinch
The Hawfinch invasion has been a remarkable event in British birding this winter with birds turning up across the country following a failure of the seed crop on the continent, particularly in eastern Europe where they would normally spend the winter. As the photos show, the Hawfinch has an out-sized head and bill: evolution's answer to a nut-cracker, it is said to be capable of exerting 50kg of force. That's what I call a beast from the east!
Male Hawfinch - note the more steely grey bill, richer colouration in the head, blue panel in the secondaries and all black primaries
The male stayed stubbornly in the shadows apart from this brief pose on the churchyard wall
I let my fellow Swineham irregular Trevor know about the rare visitor to our manor and as we waited for the first Hawfinch to reappear, a distinctive call behind me betrayed the presence of a second. Trevor soon located it as it dropped to feed on the ground. The next challenge was to get a photograph - easier said than done with this very shy species, especially given the amount of people wandering past the graveyard.
A good view of the powerful bill...
Note the crinkly primary feathers in this rear view
I eventually managed some decent shots by standing on the road which runs alongside the graveyard, hiding behind a parked van and peering over a chest high wall to find the female feeding on the ground just yards in front of me. This odd behaviour (mine, not the Hawfinch's) attracted the attention of several passers by so the bird was soon disturbed by their innocent enquiries about what I was doing.
This morning I went for the subtle approach, staking out a quiet corner of the graveyard and later lying sniper-style beside a low wall with a good view of one of the feeding areas. It's a good job the gravediggers weren't on duty, I think I might have ended up buried alive. Not that it did me much good, the 'over the wall' shots were still the best of the lot.
Cracking seeds foraged from the ground

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