We had a great opportunity over the Bank Holiday weekend, a chance to photograph Hawfinches in the Wye Valley. I had never been closer than twenty five yards to a Hawfinch, so to be sitting in a hide with a flock of thirty just twenty feet in front of us was truly memorable. It was also a little daunting. How do you get a decent photograph out of the melee of feeding birds that we were looking at.
Fortunately it did quieten down from time to time and we did manage to get some decent pictures. The light levels were a bit low so we ended up having to use high ISO levels and it also rained for a couple of hours during the day but I can't really complain. If the sun had been shining I would probably be saying that there was to much contrast and the highlights were getting over exposed.
The trip was courtesy of Jerry Lewis and my thanks to him for allowing us access to his sites. The payback was that we had to record as much data as we could from any ringed birds that we saw. If anyone is interested there will be a follow up blog containing this information but be warned it contains a lot more pictures of Hawfinches and not all of them are good quality.
We did get a few shots of the birds perched in the trees prior to landing in the feeding area but usually they flew straight in and most of the photographic opportunities were whilst they were on the ground.
The females are not as colourful as the males but are still an impressive bird. They are also just as feisty and quite capable of seeing off the male birds. They are now probably feeding up in preparation for egg laying so will become even more dominant over the next few weeks.
It was a really great day. Seven hours sitting in a cramped hide, and for a lot of that time with water dripping from the roof, and the time just flew by. I really didn't want to leave at the end of the day. Getting a good picture of a Hawfinch had been on the top of our list for a long time. These may not be perfect but they are a lot better than I had before.
There were flocks of around twenty birds on the ground on a number of occasions and there was a lot of interaction between the birds but with the low light levels it was difficult to freeze the action. Our biggest problem during the day was a woodpecker. She did not seem that interested in feeding but she did seem to enjoy landing in the middle of the Hawfinches and putting them to flight.
We did have a second day planned but we were a bit unfortunate with the timing. We arrived to set up just as a lot of heavy duty forestry equipment was being unloaded and put to work on an adjacent piece of land. We gave it about three hours but only saw three or four Hawfinches in that time and they only stayed on the ground for a few seconds. It was unfortunate but then you always get good and bad days. No Hawfinch pictures but there is always someone around who appreciates a free handout.
Was the trip successful? Well I think so, between us we photographed and identified over twenty ringed Hawfinches. This included one that had transferred between the Dolgellau and Wye Valley populations, only the second time this had been identified. However, the best bird of the trip, was one that Dave photographed and this subsequently proved to be a bird ringed in April 2007, making it a new UK longevity record at 9 years.
A useful set of ringing data and we got some good photographs.