What wildlife to look for in January 2018
Species of the month: Hawfinch
I do not normally rave about an uncommon or rare species but this finch has to be one of the best. A small number (5) have turned up on a little nature reserve at Abbey Mills, west of Morpeth. A combination of small fields, large hedgerows with Hornbeam, deciduous woodland and the River Wansbeck makes this a perfect location for a short winter walk to get away from the Christmas shopping. I was told to look for Hornbeams, which turned out to be two large over-grown hedges. A brief period of scanning eventually turned up the group noisily crunching Hornbeam nuts. The popping noise could be heard from quite a distance. Great views were had especially involving a male chasing a female.
Hawfinches are infamously one of the shyest and scarcest of British breeding birds and even a fleeting glimpse of one is noteworthy. Which is a shame as they are also one of the most beautiful birds to live in these isles; with a soft plumage consisting of various shades of orange, grey, peach, black, white and even a hint of metallic blue. They look like no other British bird, being large finches with enormous metal-grey bills set on big heads that makes them look very front-heavy, a feature accentuated by their short, stubby tails.
My very first birds were a pair in the Hirsel car park alongside the A697 in the early 1980’s. There used to be a flock wintering at the entrance to Hulne Park, Alnwick. This flock disappeared a few years ago and the species became very difficult to find in the county. Either a very good breeding season or a failure of seed crop in Central Europe has meant large numbers are turning up in the UK in the last month. It will be well worth looking around stands of beech and hornbeam – best of luck.
N.B. Abbey Mills nature reserve is well worth the visit at any time of year. Jack Daw
Send all sightings to: Ian & Keith Davison, The Bungalow, Branton, Powburn, NE66 4LW Or by email to email@example.com
If you have wildlife queries you can email them to redsquirrel@alnwickwildlife group.co.uk – and they will be forwarded to an appropriate member who will try to answer them. No promises, mind – none of us are great experts!