The Hawfinch

The hawfinch, our largest finch, is not a bird we see much of in Cheshire. According to “Birds in Cheshire & Wirral – A breeding and wintering atlas” (2008), the last known incidence of breeding in the county was in 1990. In the mid-19th century hawfinches were recorded as common, so much so that they were regarded as pests in gardens and orchards. Sadly, the numbers have declined considerably in recent years. They have a patchy national distribution with strongholds in southeastern England, and in Gloucestershire, Derbyshire, Nottinghamshire, Yorkshire and Cumbria.

These photos were taken at Sizergh Castle near Kendal in Cumbria. Best time to try is during the winter months. It is best to arrive as early as possible as the car park can get quite busy with hikers and dog walkers even then. Fortunately the car park gate is usually open. I’m told that the best time is usually March and early April. An additional benefit of going in March is that the café and toilets will be open!

There are 2 strategies worth trying to see the hawfinches. If you arrive early and have the car park mostly to yourself you should aim to park in the corner near the children’s playground (but not too close). Scatter a load of seed on the grass under the trees and watch from the car to see what turns up. You will most likely attract chaffinches by the dozen, a few greenfinches, robin, blackbird, nuthatch, various tits, jackdaw, jay, collared dove, and maybe some hawfinches. Alternatively stand in the car park and scan the tops of the surrounding hornbeams. The birds are very shy so much patience is required. There is also a proper bird feeding station just beyond the car park that attracts the usual woodland birds, but probably not hawfinches.

4th March 2015

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