Wednesday, 2 January 2008

Derbyshire Does It Again

Happy New Year!
It's be grand old start to 2008 for me. With a little local knowledge and the defiant will to ignore a particularly groggy head and get up early on the Bank Holiday, I scored with 2 lifers yesterday.

Click the image to enlarge and trust me, it's a Hawfinch.
View a real photographer's effort here.

I should be ashamed posting such a poor picture. I swear, if I take a worse bird photograph all year long I should be very surprised. It's a Hawfinch down by Cromford Canal. That's been a traditional location for this impressive and elusive finch for a number of years now, news which has clearly spread as more than a dozen birders where searching for them on New Years Day. Every one of them, I believe, left having had good views too.

The best spot for them were these tall beech trees nearby the car park, with 3-5 birds staying mainly in the higher branches, though the Hawfinches were occasionally enticed to the ground by the bolder Chaffinches already feeding down there. These sights only occur in winter as you would so well to see Hawfinch come to earth at any other time of the year. Spring, summer and into autumn, they feed high in the canopy and are hidden by foliage.

Overall the conservation status of Hawfinches is very positive in Europe, recent analysis suggesting a boom, indeed an increase of 658% across the continent between 1980 and 2005. Wow!
Yet the news in the UK seems less positive, with a decline in most breeding areas.

The bird itself is unmistakable once you find it, and beyond the obvious - that enormous nutcracking bill, the bulky size and peachy tones, it was the black mask that struck me. There's something almost Dick Whittington about the way it looks.

Elsewhere along the canal, 14 Dabchicks along a couple of miles afforded very close viewing, with one quite bizarrely eager to take the bread visitors were throwing to the ducks. Surely this cannot be healthy for a species evolved to feed on aquatic insects and small fish?

Other bird species along the canal included Jay, Great Spotted Woodpecker, Goldcrest, Nuthatch, Grey Wagtail (around the water treatment works) and Coal Tit. So far as other wildlife goes, Cromford is most famous for Water Vole, and I very clearly remember how easy they were to see chugging along the canal when I was a child. Now in 2008, we only saw a dead one drowned on a steep banked length of the canal (I'll save you the photograph), and I hear that they've dropped in number big time in the last several years. It's very sad for me, because I'm still young and yet I can already say I remember when...

My other lifer of the day was an Iceland Gull at Ogston Reservoir. Again, a traditional site, with upto 15,000 gulls roosting in the winter on those waters, a few of the rarer species are always going to turn up. So with the Black-headed, Lesser and Great Black-backeds, Herrings and Commons, in came a superb 2nd-winter Iceland Gull. A beautiful, largely white bird, with warm brown speckles, gull species just don't get anymore attractive.

A murky video of a gull not from Iceland!

Check out the white wingtips on the bird at the back - always means something a bit special in the UK.

Ironically, Iceland Gulls do not breed in the country that gave them their name. Instead most seen in the UK will originate from Greenland. They rare inland and are most numerous on the coasts of NW Scotland, but a few dozen birds will always turn up on reservoirs in the midlands, just like Ogston.
The girlfriend was tired so we left while more gulls were heading in, apparently Glaucous and Mediterranean Gull arrived later on. However we did see a pair of Pink-footed Geese, associating with the Canadas in the surrounding fields.

So that's two new UK species for me, in one day, within hardly 30 miles of driving. I'm a happy birder!

Video 1 - Dabchick eating bread

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