A Day of Finches and Firsts
Saturday 16th January 2016 was a good day. After what has been a depressingly dull few weeks, if not months, winter finally arrived in South-West England and I made the most of the day with some great moments bagged. No snow unfortunately but clear skies and icy conditions were just as welcome and an early alarm call meant I was in the car and on my way well before sunrise. Having the roads almost to myself was bliss but given the heavy frost I erred on the side of caution and took things steady. I'd staked out a decent site earlier in the week for some very special finches and arrived with not a sole to be seen. It wasn't long before the birds started appearing and with the sun still yet to fully rise, light was a little sparse but that soon changed. My aim was to get some decent views, and hopefully photos, of a flock of cracking Bramblings that are over-wintering and I'm pleased to say it was mission-accomplished with at least eight of these mottled finches seen during a few fantastic hours. I enjoyed plenty of point-blank encounters but inevitably the Bramblings weren't alone, with lots of Greenfinches (super aggressive ones too), Chaffinches, Yellowhammers, Corn Buntings and best of all, a handful of Tree Sparrows in the vicinity. These elusive birds were a lifer for me and when I set my binoculars on them I had to do a double take. Increasingly intensive farming has hit these once common birds hard so seeing them in the English countryside these days is no sure thing. I was delighted to have finally seen them and spent a good while watching them preening, feeding and bickering.
Back to the Bramblings, they were more than happy to come and feed at close quarters, though being tucked up, still and quiet was clearly the order of the day and as a result I was able to get some pleasing images.
This particular Brambling was very quick to fly in and feed and took me by surprise time and again by suddenly appearing, grabbing some food, and disappearing back into cover. It did however allow some amazing close-up views.
The sun was initially actually a pain as it meant I was shooting in shadow but once it reached its peak it transformed the scene and this male Brambling took a moment to enjoy some rays. My only frustration was the depth of field being a little too shallow but beggars can't be choosers.
As I mentioned earlier, the local Greenfinches were incredibly aggressive towards any intruders and saw off countless visitors as they fed. Bulky birds which I could identify just from their strong wingbeats, they were just as photogenic.
After a great couple of hours I got a text from fellow photographer Dave Soons, who was planning a trip over to Gloucester for the Penduline Tits. I didn't think twice about this and we were soon off, hopefully to see these very rare visitors to the UK. On arrival I couldn't believe how many people were present - this was a proper twitch! I'm not a fan of the big crowds but we were soon watching the two male birds (my second lifers of the day) which performed brilliantly for the time we were there and it was nice to help a few people get onto the stars of the show. The birds were quite distant and I decided not to bother getting my camera out given the glut of shots already taken by others but had a great time just watching the action. We then headed back towards home and decided to look for the Barn Owls that had been showing well at Shorncote. It was a bit of a wait but one eventually appeared and made a beeline for us before disappearing for a while. By this time the light had started to go and I said that me putting my camera away would guarantee the return of the owl. So I put my kit back in my rucksack and just as I was putting this on my back the owl appeared at close range before heading for cover. Typical, but amusing in equal measure. So, all in all, a mighty fine but chilly day with some great birds seen, some photos taken, excellent company including seeing a few familiar faces and real appreciation for the hobby that I cannot get enough of. Let's hope for more of the same for the rest of the year!
Keywords: Bird, Birds, Brambling, Cold, Farmland, Finches, Frost, Gloucestershire, Greenfinch, January, Nature, Penduline Tits, Photography, Wildlife, Winter
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