December dawned bright and windless today, perfect winter birding weather. However my daughters had an event to attend in Norwich which required a drop off at Easton at 9.45am and a pick up at 1pm. That 3 1/2 hour window put the coast out of the question but Lynford Arboretum seemed to fit the bill. I had seen 3 Two-barred Crossbills here some weeks ago so it was Hawfinch that I was most interested in, not the much debated winged-barred Crossbill that is exercising minds and blogs on the internet. The excellent new BTO Bird Atlas shows a dramatic decline in Hawfinches especially in East Anglia so recent reports of up to 12 at Lynford would be a spectacular sight. Checking my birding records going back to the 80's the biggest flock I've ever seen was 7 at Epping Forest, followed by a 5 at East Wretham and the rest just ones and twos.
I arrived at Lynford to the calls of a few Common Crossbills that were coming down to drink at the muddy pools in the walled garden. The wing-barred Crossbill had been seen half an hour earlier but not since so I walked straight along the path across the bridge to the horse-paddocks, the favoured haunt of the Lynford Hawfinches. There was a small group of birders here waiting patiently for there had been no sign of any Hawfinch so far that morning. A Kestrel holding vigil on the electricity wires that stretched across the field was being blamed for their absence. A pager message alerted us to a report of 9 Hawfinch by the bridge barely 150 yards away from us, although there was no visible birder presence, and neither had there been any verbal communication from any one who might have been standing there. Myself, and John and Judy Geeson , ambled towards the bridge to get a better view of the trees that lined the stream but of birds or birders there was no sign. Some Common Crossbills flew in to the top of a poplar and posed briefly before heading back to their more usual coniferous habitat. Suddenly I picked up a chunky finch in bounding flight with broad white wing bars heading towards the large trees in the middle of the paddock, a Hawfinch! The bird, a pristine male, perched in the very top of one of the trees, almost shining in the winter sunshine. Returning to the group of birders, there were 2 more birds in the second tree although a little more obscured. A male Bullfinch glowed brilliant red in the same tree, easily visible to the naked eye so intense was the colour of his breast. The Hawfinches moved on and it was time for me to leave too.
I was outside much of yesterday sorting out soggy sheep in persistent drizzle but the home patch was quiet. After 5 weeks it was time to take the rams out from the ewes. For two rams this involved some deft footwork avoiding their charge, grabbing them around the chin as they came to a halt and quickly applying a halter to lead them home. The third ram is a much more docile beast but was ironically harder to catch as he stuck with his ewes that constantly moved away from us as we approached. Amazingly no ewe had acquired a blue rump from the change in raddle colour of 17 days ago which indicates they all fell pregnant on the first pass and means a lambing period of just 3 weeks of disturbed nights for us next March/April instead of the usual 5. It was also the fateful time to sort out which lambs we're keeping on and which are ready for the freezer.
After doing the sheep I put out our two trail cameras that have been languishing in the house for the last few months. One went out on a post by the scrape, another set to video out by a mink raft on a dyke where we've previously captured photos of otter and water vole. Most of the time I get photos of a Mallard swimming one way and then swimming back but you never know what could be out there.