Where and how to photograph Hawfinches

Right now, there is a large invasion of Hawfinches (Coccothraustes coccothraustes) recorded for Great Britain. The peak took place in fall 2017, and good numbers have remained during the winter months. With fewer than 1,000 breeding pairs in Britain, Hawfinch populations are critically low and the bird is Red-listed as a Bird of Conservation Concern, according to the RSPB.

On the continent – especially in the eastern parts, Hawfinches are not as rare as in the western part of Europe. But to photograph them, is tricky enough.

Hawfinches are notable for their bright brown-orange-grey colors and for their unusually large beaks and strong jaws. Hawfinches are real beauties. Famous are their beaks, which can shear open hawthorn, cherry and even damson stones. Like all finches, Hawfinches use the cutting edge at the back of their bills to hold a stone while they crack it open and skilfully extract the kernel with their tongues.

Hawfinches love to feed on hornbeam seeds. If you find a suitable area, you might head straight ahead to a stand of these trees which are laden with seed in late fall. You might manage to see plenty of Hawfinches flitting through the branches, but it will be difficult to get a clear look at them through the (rest of the) leaves. The birds are normally skittish and shy. This give them a reputation of being difficult to observe, not to talk of photograph them well.

For years I was looking for “the” opportunity for close-up images. I spend some time in Saxonia in the moutains where there is a youth hostel with big beech trees in front. The hostel ist quite old and the beech trees were standing quite close. Close enough to photograph from a balcony right in the canopy of the tree. Big beech trees “invite” finches with their fresh green leaves in early May. In this time of the year Hawfinches like to eat the fresh leaves like Common Chaffinches (Fringilla coelebs), European Greenfinches (Chloris chloris) and Eurasian Bullfinches (Pyrrhula pyrrhula). The results were good, but not really excellent.

I decided I needed a much closer look at these remarkable birds. I checked the internet und found sakertours in Hungary. I approached the owner of this tour agency and he agreed that I could use his hide right in the middle of an old oak forest. The building of the hide is very well done. It is constructed on eye-level in front of a pool to provide water for the various birds to drink from, and to provide a reflective surface for photographs. Sakertours also built a large bird table – again at eye level – to the hide. Everything is well integrated to mimic a woodland floor. The edges of the pool  are covered with bark and leaf litter. Feeders and assorted perches perfects the facility.

After a short invention to all the facilities, the guide from  sakertours left me alone in the hide.

Minutes after he left, there were plenty of woodland species to watch. Sakertours really succeeded very well in attracting a huge variety of woodland birds including woodpeckers (Syrian Woodpecker (Dendrocopos syriacus) and Black Woodpecker (Dryocopus martius)), Marsh Tits (Poecile palustris), Great Tit (Parus major), Eurasian Blue Tit (Cyanistes caeruleus), Eurasian Nuthatch (Sitta europaea), Brambling (Fringilla montifringilla), Eurasian Siskin (Spinus spinus), Common Chaffinches, European Greenfinches and Eurasian Bullfinches. Even a male Sparrowhawk (Accipiter nisus) landed on one of the perches.

Only a bit later I thought I heard that distinctive, high-pitched tic, tic. Before long there was a flash of black-and-white wings, and a Hawfinch landed in the leaf litter alongside the other finches. It wasn’t until I saw it next to its smaller cousins that I really appreciated how big this species is. It is twice the size of a Greenfinch and has a huge head to accommodate its mighty jaw muscles, making it look extremely top heavy.

Before long two more Hawfinches appeared. I noticed one of the birds was curiously looking at the edges of water. Then a male Hawfinch landed on the edge of the pool. It was not very wary and stayed some time but did not bathe. I decided to be patient. And finally, a Hawfinch arrived at the pool, stayed on the bark and started to bathe that you could see the water drops in the air.

To cope with the growing demand for top shots of the rarer species of the Palearctic Bird-Lens is keen to enrich the range of pictures of birds you can find in the western palearctic.  Trips to remote places like this one to capture images of rare birds of western palearctic were very successful. The nice images you find in the gallery are only a first impression, what you will find in the gallery in the “Pictures Shop” very soon. Just give me a message, if I could serve you with an image needed before the new pictures are online.

Other successful shootings you can see under: www.bird-lens.com in the pictures shop.

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