Monday, 8 January 2018

7th January - Mercer Way, Romsey, Hampshire

After the gloom and storms of last week, it was welcoming on Sunday morning to wake to blue skies and sunshine despite the very cold north easterly wind.  I had hoped for sunshine today as I had wanted to take the opportunity to visit Mercer Way in Romsey, a reliable site for wintering Hawfinches over the years, but this winter they have been much more reliable in their sightings due to the national influx of Hawfinches.

I set off mid morning in the sunshine, and arrived in Romsey, parking at the end of Mercer Way.  This is one of those unlikely settings for a wildlife experience, a small park situated in a housing estate, and wandering around with binoculars and camera attracts strange looks from the locals either walking dogs or playing with their children.

As I walked into the park I passed a female Bullfinch calling in the tree above me.  I stopped to check the tree tops, and a Hawfinch flew in, but almost immediately flew off again, at least I had seen one.  I walked around to stand looking into the trees and a path where there were several puddles, the sun was behind me giving some wonderful light.  I was not alone there were several others in attendance, some standing like myself, others sat on the ground with huge lenses aimed at the puddle.

A pair of Robins entertained as we waited, coming to feed around the edge of the puddle, the water throwing some excellent reflections.

Despite being in such close proximity, they appeared to tolerate each other, allowing one at a time to come to the water.

Chaffinches and a single Siskin kept coming to the puddles at the back of the path.  A pair of female Bullfinches briefly dropped down to the puddle, but were better seen in the branches above us, munching through the emerging buds.

Then a small flock of Goldfinches appeared, and for some reason I considered this a good sign, and I was right as almost immediately after a Hawfinch appeared.  Unfortunately not at the front puddle, which meant all the lenses had to adjust there position, but it was a start.

Then another appeared at the edge of the closest and largest puddle.

The grey on the secondary feathers, lack of a distinct black around the yes and lores and the pale and dull plumage colour identifies this as a female.

It was wonderful light that added to the scene.

While adding to the scene the light was also a challenge as it brightened areas of dark brown mud.  In order to get the right image I was photographing the Hawfinch by under exposing the image by one stop.

Then she was gone, and replaced quickly by a male at the puddle a little behind the first.  here you can see the black lores, brighter plumage, with more defined colour.  The secondaries being all bluish black.

Then as quickly as they appeared they were both gone.  I stood and waited with the others in the hope that they would return.  As we waited a Blue Tit came to the puddle to drink and bathe.

Always on the look out.

 A flock of Long-tailed Tits flew through, but no further sign of the Hawfinches coming back.  I decided to go for a walk along the canal path up to Fishlake Meadows.  The view point not being too far away.

At the first canal bridge, a small bird flew from the bramble onto the bridge, then dropped off the other side.  At first I thought Goldcrest, but once I picked it up again it was clear it was a Chiffchaff.

I watched it as it crawled through the bramble, then lost it, but found it again on the other side of the bank.

Constantly looking for food around the leaves, and close to the water.

Then another bird flew from the bramble and it was clear that there were actually two birds present.  As they disappeared into the bank, I decided to walk on.

At the viewpoint over Fishlake Meadows there was plenty to see on the water as a large congregation of all the common gulls were present.  Mostly Black-headed and Common Gulls there were one or two Herring Gulls, and one apiece of Lesser and Great Blacked Gulls.

In amongst the gulls, the dominant duck were the Tufted Ducks, but I could also find Gadwall, Wigeon, mallard and a few Teal.  Cormorants could also be seen perched in the far dead trees.

I had hoped for a Raptor around the lake, but scanning the trees there was nothing present.  Time was tight so and I wanted one more go at the Hawfinches so I decided to head back.  As I reached the canal path I met a couple inquiring about how to get into Fishlake Meadows as they had read about it in the HIOW Wildlife trust magazine, I explained the viewing point and they were not impressed, and when I told them about the Hawfinches they decided to come back with me.

Walking back into the park, there was a small group looking down into ivy under the tree.  As I walked up I could see movement in the ivy, and then a Hawfinch appeared.

Again a male, the more defined colours and the dark secondary wing panel evident

Here you can see the rounded throat bib, and the black lores leading to around the eyes

It quite happily moved through the ivy.

In breeding plumage the bill is blue-black in colour, in winter though it is more ivory in colour.  Another feature of the male bird is on the ends of the secondary feathers, they are splayed and twisted to form a curious end to the feathers, it is thought they are used for display in the breeding season.  They can just be seen in this picture.

Not sure what it was finding to eat, but it did so regularly using the huge bill to crack the seeds.

Apparently like a small parrot the Hawfinch can exert up to 150 pounds per square inch with its jaw muscles and huge bill, no doubt a bird ringers nightmare.

Then a Robin alarm call went off, and the Hawfinch flew up immediately into the trees and out of sight.  I looked around for the possible danger but could find nothing.  Looking around I could also see that the couple I had met earlier had managed to see the bird too.

It looks like the Hawfinch will be this year's Waxwing.  At last I had been able to get some excellent views of a really superb bird.

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