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Thursday, 8 February 2018

Hawfinch Hunting - on 7th February, 2018

I'd not seen a Hawfinch in UK since Christmas Day, 2008 when Lindsay and I were having a picnic lunch on Cannock Chase, and a female Hawfinch landed beside our car. It was my first self-found 'rarity' and I made what I subsequently considered to be a mistake by reporting the sighting on Birdguides. The bird hung around for a few months, and there was conflict between birders and the local community as birders decided to try and exclude the locals by erecting barriers at the entrance to the area that it was frequenting. I'm told that this even led to verbal abuse by birders which resulted in physical violence. I kept away from the site for a year or so, and have become very wary of reporting sightings since then.

This year there has been an amazing influx of Hawfinch into the country and, in spite of several visits to reported sites, I felt that I must be one of the only people in Leicestershire not to have seen one this winter! Wednesday dawned bright and sunny with sub-zero temperatures and no wind, and I decided to try and rectify the situation. I set off to Burbage Common, near Hinckley - a place where Hawfinch were being seen on a regular basis.

I'd had to think twice before going as I was without my usual camera. Having had my regular lens back from repair in time for me to take it to Scotland, on my return from Scotland I sent away my Nikon D7200 camera body to have oil spots on the sensor dealt with (again!). I have had to fall back on my old D300s. This has only half the number of pixels resolution, greatly reduced ability to work at high ISOs, and controls which differ somewhat from the D7200. My efforts during the morning suffered somewhat because of this!

As I slowed down near the site to park my car, out of nowhere a female Kestrel landed at the roadside approximately 6ft (2 metres)  from my car, grabbed its prey, and flew off - all in an instant!

Entering the site, I immediately found a couple of Jays and a Redwing. Although I had several sightings of Jay during my time there I never did manage any shots. The Redwing was, unfortunately, keeping to an area of dappled light.

Redwing (Turdus iliacus) - Burbage Common
There were two other birders in the immediate area that I'd entered and they had seen a Hawfinch head into this area approximately 20 minutes earlier, so this was encouraging. However, after around half an hour nothing was being seen so I set off on a wider search. 

I was surprised at the relatively large number of Robins that were around. Although a very common bird, I still find them delightful, and couldn't resist a few shots as I searched the area.



Robin (Erithacus rubecula) - Burbage Common
With using a camera that I was not used to, it seems that I left my 'photographic head' at home. Therefore, when a Fox appeared heading towards me, and then ran past me with a dark background, I'd forgotten that the exposure compensation on my camera had been set to try and capture a Jay against the sky. I completely flunked the shots, the only vaguely salvageable shot being when it passed behind a pale-blue plastic covered hay bale - the pale colour causing the shutter speed to increase (I work on an 'aperture priority' setting). Here's the evidence of my failure!

Red Fox (Vulpes vulpes) - Burbage Common
I'd been on site for nearly two hours and not seen a Hawfinch, and had stopped to talk with one of the gentlemen that I'd seen earlier. I'd just said to him that I was going to head homeward as I was expected at home for a late lunch, when we both spotted a Hawfinch fly across in front of us and land in the trees that border the railway line about 50 metres away. I took some distant record shots.



Hawfinch (Coccothraustes coccothraustes) - Burbage Common
We were joined by another birder, and then the Hawfinch dropped into the small copse to the left of us.  We went to try and relocate it, keeping close to the trees that lined the railway tracks. It was eventually spotted on the ground through thick undergrowth only about 25 metres from our position. We watched it for a while whilst it bumbled around searching for food (absolutely no chance of a shot as only small bits of it were visible at any one time) and in the end there were five of us watching it. Eventually, it flew left and, I suspect, away. After a while with it not being spotted again I felt that I should return home for a (rather late!) late lunch.

As I left there was an unusually confiding Redwing between me and where I was heading - again in dappled light. Furthermore, I messed up again with having left my exposure compensation on an inappropriate setting (I'd dialled in a + compensation again for those Hawfinch images above). I did, however, get this corrected in time to get some shots.


Redwing (Turdus iliacus) - Burbage Common
Garden Lists - Weeks 04 (22/01/2018 to 28/01/2018) and 05 (29/01/2018 to 04/02/2018)

The number of species setting foot down in our garden was down in Week 04. This may partly be due to reduction in observation time - it was a busy week, and then I was away on my trip to Scotland from the Saturday morning. From the 'base list' Great Tit and Wren were noticeable by their absence, but Blackcap (a female) and Siskin (also a female) were welcome additions to the list.

Week 05 numbers were also down, but then I was away all week until the Friday afternoon - so only two and a half days of observation. GS Woodpecker was absent, but Great Tit and Wren put in an appearance, and Jackdaw was another welcome addition.

2018, Week 04 - 22nd to 28th January
2018, Week 05 - 29th January to 4th February







































Whilst in Scotland, the weather was not kind to me, being very windy for virtually the whole time I was there, but I did manage to get some photos. My next post, all things being equal, will be a report on my Scottish visit. The photos are already processed!

Thank you for dropping by










22 comments:

  1. Ha ha, that hay bale maybe was in the way but it served to give you decent shot of the fox despite the wrong settings. A great collection of photos as always. I have never seen a hawfinch! I am surprised that you said you saw a number of robins. I though that they were very territorial. We only ever have one in our garden, the only time I saw two, the one was standing over the other which had obviously just died after being thoroughly pecked to death!!!
    Hope you are well,best wishes Diane

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    1. Hi Diane. Yes, Robins are notoriously territorial and I've seen them 'fight to the death' too (although I managed to save the victim on that one occasion), but sometimes, especially in winter and at places where food is plentiful, they seem to become more tolerant of each other.

      Yes, thank you, we're all fine here - I hope that you are too. Best wishes - - - Richard

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  2. You have at least one Hawfinch, brilliant Richard. And you have a beautiful Red Fox. I love it.

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    1. Thank you, Bob. It was a most enjoyable morning and I no longer feel like the odd-one-out with the Bullfinch situation! Best wishes - - - Richard

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  3. I managed 4 Hawfinch today which was a bonus. Lovely Redwing photos. Not an easy bird to get near and photograph.

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    1. 4 Hawfinch is a great find, Marc. I too usually find Redwing a difficult bird to photograph as they usually act very skittish. However, I usually see them in company with Fieldfare and am wondering if it's the fielfdfare that are the skittish ones and the Redwing just follow suit (had a near one there - I hit an 'h' instead of a 'u' on that last word, but spotted it before publishing!). These ones seemed somewhat more confiding, although I wasn't trying to stalk them.

      Best wishes - - - Richard

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  4. Hi Richard: This whole business of whether to report or not to report rarities is becoming the issue of the day in the birding fraternity. I don't think we have quite the same degree of problems as you do in the UK with its rabid corps of twitchers, but it is nevertheless a cause for concern here. More and more birders are not reporting "good" sightings and I can only think the trend will continue. The welfare of the bird should always be paramount and I think that many people have forgotten that, or choose to ignore it. It's a sad byproduct of the passion we all love so much. Much love to you and Lindsay.

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    1. Sadly, David, every hobby has its fanatics who are prepared to overstep the mark in pursuit of their objectives. It's the few who, as always, give the majority a bad name. I had this problem when I ran railtours - people who would trespass in areas that I'd specifically stated were 'out of bounds' just so that they could try and track down a specific locomotive. In those situations I was able to be quite ruthless with repeat offenders and ban them from participation in future tours!

      With my love to you both - - - Richard

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  5. I would love a shot of a Jay. Little tinkers shout at me several times a week. Great shots despite the camera. A Hawfinch is a bird I have never seen so thank you for persevering.

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    1. I find Jays very difficult to photograph, Adrian, as they are very nervous birds. The only time I've had reasonable success was last year when, for a time, a pair was visiting our garden regularly. I'm hoping that I don't have to spend too much time getting used to the old camera body again. I'm still awaiting the repair estimate from Nikon. They're quoting 2-3 weeks from receipt to return.

      Best wishes - - - Richard

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  6. I'm glad you caught up Hawfinches pity about the camera issues it is always
    a pain getting reacquainted with the controls, still I liked the fox and Redwings

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    1. Thanks, Doug. It's very frustrating being without one's 'tools of the trade' - so much so that I've found myself contemplating suggesting to Mrs P. that I get a duplicate D7200 as insurance against such occasions. However, I don't think I'd get away with it!

      Best wishes - - - Richard

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  7. Just wonderful observations! Greetings

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    1. Thank you, Anne. It was an enjoyable session. Best wishes - - - Richard

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  8. Great post Richard,you did well to capture Hawfinch,hope your D7200 makes it's way back to you soon.
    John.

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    1. Hi, John - it was a relief to catch up with one at last! I'm finding it very frustrating without the D7200, particularly on dull days when the D300s really shows its weaknesses. Still waiting for Nikon to give me an estimate, so no prospect of a return in the near future. Best wishes to you and Sue - - - Richard

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  9. Hello dear Richard,
    Great observations and photos although the fox was quite a story! LOL!
    I work in the Manual mode with automatic Iso's. I always have a speed of 1/1500s when I photograph animals since they often have quick reactions and never under 1/2500s with birds. So the only setting I'm left to fiddle with is the Exposure.... It works well for me.
    How lucky you get to see the Redwing, that is one European bird on my wishing list!
    I hope you are well,
    Warm hugs to share with Lindsay :)

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    1. Hi Noushka! It's good to have you back from your African adventures. I can see from your first blog post on your trip that we are in for some real treats!

      I don't use auto ISO on the D300s as I find that the graininess at an ISO of over 800 is unacceptable, unless I'm desperate. I do use auto ISO on the D7200, but only up to 1,000 ISO (I'm thinking I should raise that figure), although I sometimes override that setting. I too am very dependent on the use of exposure correction, but my problem is I sometimes forget that I've wound in a plus compensation for some flight shots against a pale sky, and then make a total mess of it when I shoot against a dark background. Sadly, the average light levels in UK are probably well below what you get in your part of the world.

      In this area, we only see Redwing in winter. Some years are better than others.

      With my very best wishes, and hopes that you are not feeling the cold too much after your return - - - Richard

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  10. Went out for a Hawfinch, came back with a Fox! That's creative birding at its best, Sir Richard!
    So, after reading 46 pages of complaining about the "old camera" and how awful those controls are - why do I see so many high quality lovely photographs??
    I do believe you have put to rest the old canard we all hear so often: "What a nice photograph. You must have a good camera." NO! DASH IT ALL! I HAPPEN TO KNOW HOW TO USE THE CAMERA!!

    In all seriousness, Richard, it seems you had a wonderful outing. Now, try not to wait another ten years for a Hawfinch to fly by!

    Gini and I just returned from over a month's vacation in Texas and New Mexico. Almost finished processing over 4,000 images. Whew! Will share a few soon. All the best!

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    1. Hi Wally. I think I have a basic knowledge on the use of a camera - it's just that I forget from time to time!!! I've had the estimate for repair now, and approved it (thankfully somewhat less than I feared) and am just waiting for them to get on with the job.

      I'm really looking forward to seeing your vacation photos. 4,000 take a bit of working through, and I'm sure there will be some fabulous material in there.

      Thank you for dropping by - it's always great to hear from you.

      Take good care. My very best wishes to you and Gini - - - - Richard

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  11. Hello Richard, amazing the amounth of birds that come to your garden. Great you managed at last to capture a Hawfinch. I still did not manage to see one. But I am sure I will see one, one day. I also must stay allert about my settings with the exposure as I also take pictures in Aperture. But you managed to take a great capture of the fox. Hope your D7200 will be fixed soon.
    Take care,
    Roos

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    1. Hi, Roos. It gives you a measure of the number of birds we get if I tell you that we are currently getting though over a kilo of bird food every day!

      Having approved the estimate for my camera, the status is still showing as "awaiting repair". I too hope it's fixed soon!

      With my very best wishes - - - Richard

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I'm pleased to report that the anonymous spam problem seems to be solvable without using word verification. I'm now just using the 'Registered Users - includes OpenID' option in Blogger settings, and I'm not getting any spam - touch wood! I've also not received any contact from people saying that they are no longer able to make comments.