Hawfinch Happiness

One of my all time favourite birds is the hawfinch.
Over the years whenever I have searched for them , I somehow always seemed to miss them.
The place where I always seemed to fail to see these wonderful birds was the New Forest in Hampshire.

So just before Christmas I decided it was about time I tried again , seeing as I had heard they were quite close by in Hertfordshire.
I set off one cloudy Saturday morning to St Andrew’s Church Bramfield , Herts in the hope of spotting one.
I was surprised on arrival that there was not any other birdwatchers around , I stood wondering if I was in the right place for a while.
My camera was still in the case , when I noticed a bird in a small cherry tree at the front of the church wall.

The tree was only small and about ten metres away from me and I could only just stare in amazement when I realised it was a hawfinch but I was not even prepared for it.
Wow , what a finch !
Fantastic colours and markings and a beak that could crack through any seed.
Now I realised what I loved about this bird.
It certainly lived up to all my expectations.
I quickly rushed into action in getting the camera set up but a minute later and it was sadly gone.

Bramfield Churchyard – rear view , showing the lime and yew trees in the summer.

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The Church and the lime tree row in the winter.

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I had the camera set up now and I had been waiting for a good two hours with nothing of note turning up at the churchyard apart from a few different finches and a nuthatch.
Then suddenly I could see two birds right at the top of the lime trees in the centre of the churchyard and they were hawfinches.

I quickly tried to take a few pictures of these fantastic birds.
The lime trees were very tall and a good distance away so I was having to use the camera at full zoom but I was savouring every minute of them.
After 10 minutes or so they flew off , right above my head , across the road and into the old rectory garden.
This garden is full of beautiful yew trees and lots of other trees providing great cover for the birds.
Sadly I could not spot them in the garden as they were too well hidden and they did not return for the duration I was waiting.

However , I was so thrilled to finally tick this bird off my list so to speak.
I may not have captured any really good pictures of them but was just delighted to have finally seen one.
I just kept thinking , what if I was prepared properly and ready when that first bird appeared ?
I guess that this was a lesson well learnt and seeing as I had only used my camera for a few days up until then , it was all part of the learning experience.

I enjoyed my day there so much , I hope to return over Easter and maybe I might come home with a better capture this time ?
To me though , just to see them for a second time would be fantastic.

Hawfinch in a lime tree.

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A Wonderful Winter of Waxwings

When I was a young lad at school , many years ago , I had the task of doing a school project that involved selecting my favourite three birds.
I’m not sure how I selected them but they were the hoopoe , hawfinch and waxwing in that order.
These three always seemed so special to me , I guess at a young age colours play their part too.
So this winter , to get good sightings of two of them has been really special for me.

My first waxwing sighting of the year was around the first week of January.
As it was a work day , I only had around an hour time frame to see them.
It was a little grey but sometimes we dont really get much choice with times and weather , you just have to run with it.
I soon spotted the seven birds high up in a tree having an early morning preen.
They were very nervous , coming down every few minutes to feed on rosehips which they were devouring with ease , thanks to their rather special forked tongue that acts like a lever in helping them swallow the hips.

I watched them for a while and took some photos of them until one of the birds decided to drink from a pothole in the middle of a busy road at 8 am in rush hour traffic.
Then the other six all followed and I had to wave some cars down to stop and warn the waxwings away from the road.

This worked well to start with but a few minutes later they decided to do exactly the same thing and sadly I could not prevent one from being hit by a car !
They must have realised how dangerous this was as they later found a puddle on the grass verge that was safe for them to drink from.
As you can appreciate this totally spoilt my first 2013 sighting of the waxwings and I felt physically sick as I returned home.
Sadly the magnificent seven had become six !

The first sight of the seven.

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The safe place to drink from.

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Sadly I could not save this one !

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Later that day the remaining six birds left that area and I thought to myself this would be the only sighting I might have this winter.

Then a week later something strange happened.
I had gone to work at my office which is about two miles from my home , when my brother who lives opposite my office knocked on the door telling me there was a flock of 30 plus waxwings in the crab apple tree 100 feet away.
Of course i thought this was some kind of joke.
I looked out in amazement as I could see the waxwings from the front door .
I watched them preen for a few minutes and then grabbed my camera to try and get a few pictures.
I had to be quick as it was late in the afternoon and quite dull.

They were feeding on the cotoneaster and pyracantha bushes along a wall at the front of a house two houses away from my office.

First sighting in the crab apple tree.

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Feeding on the cotoneaster and pyracantha.

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It was an amazing thirty minutes , I never once dreamed that waxwings would be seen in the same street where I had grown up as a lad.
After the previous experience , this made me feel so much happier.

The next day I was keen to see if they would return but there was no sign for the first few hours , then as I looked from my window , there they were.
They were actually in the horse chestnut tree that I park under every day at work.
They stayed for around 10 minutes then went to feed in the garden of the house opposite in their cotoneaster bushes.
This time they stayed for a couple of hours.
A local bird ringing group heard of their whereabouts and they were setting up nets for ringing as i looked on.
I came very close to seeing some waxwings really close up but it was as if the waxwings had some strange sense of danger as they never returned atfer the nets were set up.

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The following day I was guessing they had gone for good.
It was the weekend and there was still snow and ice on the ground.
It was the first day in many where the sun was shining and we could finally see some blue sky .

As I waited for an hour a single bird appeared , stayed for a brief second , then flew off and so I thought finally they would not return ?

Then ten minutes later , three waxwings returned.
It was amazing to see them preening with the sun on their feathers.
I stayed for another two hours watching them preen and feed , this last time seemed such a personal experience.

It was just me and the three of them , it was so peaceful , I must confess I lost track of where I was at times , forgetting I was next to a road .

After a couple of hours they departed for good this time.
I must admit for the next two weeks I kept looking , hoping , but knew deep down how lucky I had been.
Maybe they will return next year ?
Whatever happens , I will never forget those last two hours with them as long as I live !

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Types of Birds visiting the garden .

Since I started feeding the birds some twenty years ago I have gradually encouraged more and more species to the garden.

Which also means I have increased the range of food I have put out , quite considerably over the years.

I currently put out the following foods:

Sunflower hearts , black sunflower seed , peanuts , nyjer seed , fatballs and homemade fat recipe.

Nuts in shells , dried mealworms , wild bird seed , suet pellets and occasionally apples and cheese.

I feed all these pretty much the whole year around but I remove the whole peanut feeders in the nesting season to prevent the young choking on the whole peanuts .
I usually refill these with ground peanuts or peanut granules in them for those months.

There are a few species that I used to have visit the garden several years ago like the willow tit , treecreeper , bullfinch and kingfisher but I have not seen these birds in the garden for many years .
Hopefully they may return again ?

Most other birds are generally still seen on a regular basis.

Birds seen at the Happy Nature Garden are as follows:

Wood Pigeon , Collared Dove , Blackbird , Song Thrush ,

House Sparrow , Dunnock , Starling , Greenfinch ,

Chaffinch , Goldfinch , Bullfinch , Siskin ,

Grey Wagtail , Carrion Crow , Magpie , Jay ,

Blue Tit , Great Tit , Long Tailed Tit , Coal Tit ,

Willow Tit, Wren , Robin , Feral Pigeon ,

Nuthatch , Greater Spotted Woodpecker , Stock Dove ,

Tawny Owl , Green Woodpecker , Kingfisher , Tree Creeper ,

Sparrowhawk , Blackcap , Chiffchaff , Goldcrest , Pheasant ,

Buzzard , Fieldfare , Pied Wagtail ,

These birds above have either come into the garden or perched on overhanging trees over the garden boundaries.

There has been other birds I have seen within my garden whilst looking into the woods.
These include the heron , kestrel , swifts , swallows , redwings , rooks ,jackdaws and various gulls.

I will be showing some video footage of some of these birds over the coming months and with any luck I may have a new exciting species added to the list ?

The Early Years !

When we first moved into the “Happy Nature Garden” the garden was really just weeds and very overgrown.
As much as I like a bit of untidiness in the garden , I had to make it manageable .
There was a distinct lack of flowers or shrubs and there seemed to be way too much concrete around.

As I looked over the back fence and into the woods , I remember thinking how much potential for wildlife there was , even though we were in the middle of a town centre.

Slowly the garden started to take shape and more and more wildlife was spotted in the garden.

I started to put out various bird feeders and straight away lots of of types of birds started visiting.

Blackbirds , robins , dunnocks , collared doves and pigeons initially arrived.

These were followed by blue tits , great tits , coal tits , long tailed tits and even a willow tit.

Over forty different bird species have now been recorded at the Happy Nature Garden over the years and I will be posting many photos and videos of them over the coming months.

Hedgehogs were visitors at that time too , a species I will be working at trying to get back into the garden throughout 2013.

As my garden backs directly onto woods , the first pine tree being a few feet away , I spend alot of time putting nestboxes up in the wood and have planted some beneficial trees like hazel and shrubs like buddleja’s close to my border.

There’s still a lot more I can do to further encourage species of birds , mammals , insects etc into the garden.
I will keep you informed of my future projects , including future developments on the fox family that visits my garden.