November 18th- redwing, hawfinches and hornbeams

A morning sketching at Yorkshire Arboretum in very mild but windy conditions. I found a great spot to shelter and paint under a pine tree. This afforded great views of the hornbeam copses whilst offering me a natural hide. Winter thrushes were abundant and I had some great sketching views of redwings and fieldfares as they perched in the top of a small oak before descending to feed on hawthorn berries.

I had some very close views of hawfinches, but finding them requires patience and especially, knowledge of their calls. This morning they frequently used the “ticking” call. They were feeding on hornbeam seeds. Although the seed crop is sparse, closer inspection revealed that there are plenty of seeds left. In the strong, mild wind seeds were being lifted from the branches on their distinctive bracts. Once airborne I watched the seeds carried by their bracts up to about a hundred feet, held aloft by their very fast spinning action. Hornbeam seeds are such a delightful things to look at, firstly the clusters of seeds in their bracts on the branch look like beautiful hanging decorations. Once separated from the branch the bract lies attached to the seed on the ground.

The hard seed case is filled with a softer kernel that tastes a little like flour, but a word of caution, they are best not opened with your teeth. This would be asking for trouble at a time when dentists are quite busy enough! I listened to the substantial cracking noises made by a feeding male hawfinch this morning and made some pencil sketches of the head on view. They are fantastic birds to draw and just ooze character with that intense stare and huge bill. I have always loved hawfinches and feel so privileged to be spending so much time with them.

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