December 26, 2017


Feathered guests from the east: Helen Macdonald's winter reflection : Hawfinches are legendarily mysterious, secretive and difficult to find, writes the author of H Is for Hawk. (HELEN MACDONALD, 12/24/17, New Statesman)

This autumn, there has been an unprecedented invasion from Europe. It has been reported in the national press and has set internet message boards on fire. People have left their homes expressly to search for the immigrants and some have set up microphones to detect their calls at night. Between mid-October and mid-November, 50 passed through Greenwich Park in London and more than 150 were seen at one location in East Sussex on 12 November. They've come to Britain because of food shortages in their countries of origin, and there's a general hope among those who look for them that they'll find what they need here, settle in and stay.

The new arrivals are hawfinches. If you've never seen one, imagine a chaffinch on steroids, painted soft salmon pink, black, white, russet and grey. Their enormous, cherry-stone-cracking beak resembles a pair of side-cutting steel pliers and is quite capable of severing a human finger. With coppery eyes set in an ink-black bib and mask, their overall appearance always reminds me of an exquisitely dressed pugilist. They are rare and declining in Britain -  around 800 pairs breed here - and I saw my first on a winter's evening in the late 1990s while driving through the Forest of Dean in a rainstorm at dusk. As I rounded a corner, a single bird flew up from the verge, caught in my headlights, its pied wings strobed through bright lines of falling water before it disappeared back into the dark.

The encounter was every bit as ghostly and strange as the species' reputation among British birdwatchers

Posted by at December 26, 2017 3:52 AM