Sunday, 3 April 2016

Hawfinches and skydancing harriers

A fascinating day today despite the poor weather, watching hawfinches and marsh harriers. We started at Sizergh Castle in Cumbria where unbeknown to us there was an organised hawfinch watch on the car park. This meant that half of the car park was coned off and nobody could park near the feeders and we all had to watch from the shelter of the verander of the National Trust cafe. Of course this meant that the birds were a little more distant, but undisturbed they showed more often and for longer periods. It also meant that we were sheltered from the persistant rain and even better, we could get a cup of tea!

It was great to be able to watch such enigmatic and elusive birds for such long periods and so well. I have seen hawfinches well in the past of course, but never for so long, and especially not on the ground. Usually it's a very brief  appearance low down, or more often a longer appearance but silhoueted high up in the tallest trees. Not today however, at least seven birds were feeding on the ground on and off for around an hour and through the telescope afforded excellent views. The weather was poor, it rained most of the time and it was very dull, but apprently these were just about the best conditions for seeing the birds. Photography though was virtually impossible at such a range and in such conditions.

One thing that surprised me was that the males and females were generally quite easily seperable. The males had bright, almost golden crowns, something I've never noticed before, whereas the females were more of a dull brown. The males also regularly fed the females as part of pair bonding. Most of the time they were silent, but on one occcasion they flew up into a tree quite close by and were very vocal, ticking like robins, and for several minutes the air was full of their calls.

Even on this poor photo you can see that the closest bird is a male, due to its golden crown.

Now the male is the bird on the left.

We spent the afternoon at Leighton Moss where there was a lot of marsh harrier activity. We counted at least six birds, three males and three females. One of the males near lower hide seemed to be establishing territories with two females and was occasionally seen skydancing and performing food passes.

Not the sharpest photo, but I was pleased to capture this food pass as well as I did, given the poor weather.

Other birds seen (or heard) on the reserve today included my first willow warblers of the year, singing Cetti's warbler from the Causeway and my first marsh tit of the year.

Year: 182 (Willow warbler, Marsh tit)

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