April 15th   Leave a comment

Yesterday evening I had a look at John Anderson’s photo site and found to my astonishment three photos of a hawfinch on a feeder. Now John often goes far and wide to photograph unusual Scottish birds but hawfinches – although great Crail rarities – can be tracked down in the arboretum at Scone Palace by Perth and I know John has made that pilgrimage several times. And any photo from the arboretum does not typically involve a feeder. The implication was that there was a hawfinch in Crail and probably in John’s garden. A quick email exchange ensued and I found out that yes, there was a hawfinch in Crail, but not in John’s garden although in a neighbours – who did not want lots of birders tramping around hence the lack of any news on the grape vine. John had not contacted me because I had told him last week I was going to Cyprus and he thought it was this week, not next. It was all turning into a nightmare of coincidences for me: a hawfinch is a very good bird to get on the Crail list and I might have missed this one. It got worse when John told me that it had been in Crail for the last three days. Two days is the magic number for a stop-over migrant in the spring, three if you are very lucky. In the last 14 years there has only been one other hawfinch and this was practically a flyby for a lucky observer at Kilminning. I made arrangements to visit the garden the next afternoon but went to bed feeling anxious as only a rare bird slipping away can make you feel (trust me, that’s quite anxious).

Next morning, first thing, I took the dog for a walk to Bow Butts with my binoculars in the off chance that I might spot the bird flying between the gardens. I scanned the tops of the tall trees alongside the putting green because hawfinches, as the arboretum at Scone suggests, like tall trees and they particularly like sitting right at the tops of them. First tree, there was a brown lump at the top – the hawfinch – sitting happily and in full view. The dog walk was suspended as I watched this great Crail bird and in the next 30 minutes had some of my best views ever of a hawfinch as it shuttled between the tall trees and the garden with the feeder in it via the top of a small eucalyptus in the middle. They are big finches, nearly starling size with huge bills that can crack plum stones with ease. When they fly they almost look like giant bees with their short tails, fat bodies and flickering wings. Hawfinches, to me, are associated with proper woodlands on the Continent, with big trees and black woodpeckers, firecrests, goshawks and honey buzzards and here was one bringing all of that to Crail.

The hawfinch that has been in Crail for the last four days - no. 116 for the year list and best of all no. 222 for the all time Crail list

The hawfinch that has been in Crail for the last four days – no. 116 for the year list and best of all no. 222 for the all time Crail list

Posted April 15, 2016 by wildcrail in Sightings

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