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April 2nd- hawfinches!

The Holbeck banks are gradually greening up with fresh growth. I sketched this scene at dawn on Wednesday. Skylarks, a chiffchaff, reed buntings and yellowhammers provided the soundtrack to the scene. As dawn broke there was a light, cool breeze ahead of a very warm March day.

I found some hawfinches on the patch this week. I heard them make their loud ticking call before locating them at the top of a poplar tree where they were eating the fattening buds. I had great views of them bathed in early morning sunshine.

The hawfinch is one of my favourite species to draw and paint; their proportions are extraordinary, cartoon like almost! I have to keep checking my drawing to make sure I have not exaggerated the size of the huge head and bill. The head is packed with powerful muscles which make light work of splitting tough seed cases to extract the kernels; I have watched them casually cracking sloe stones in autumn. Their plumage is very beautiful, the male has a blue grey bill in the breeding season which contrasts with the rich bronze head plumage. It is easily the biggest species of finch found in the UK and they were dwarfing the siskins and goldfinches that were feeding nearby. When I returned home the bullfinches were stripping buds on our neighbour’s apple tree. 

It has been a week of contrasts. Chiffchaffs are well established now having arrived in mid March. No suitable piece of habitat seems to be without a singing male chiffchaff at the moment. Meanwhile the sand martins are back on the Holbeck. We have a small colony in the village. We saw our first swallow on Tuesday, sleek, fast and so utterly different to anything else in the sky, a joy to see; but what weather awaits this early bird? The forecast for very cold weather on Monday and for much of next week will present this bird with a challenge if it is to survive to breed in late April or May.

Meanwhile as the first summer migrants arrive winter visitors are ready to depart. We have seen a few redwings this week and a flock of about 75 fieldfares. The fieldfares were gorging themselves on ivy berries ahead of their impending North Sea crossing, en route to their Scandinavian breeding grounds. Hearing their harsh “chack-chack” calls reminded me of their arrival back in October. These lovely birds have been with us for six months and have been such a welcome sight through the winter. I will miss them until I start to anticipate their return again in October.

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