Tuesday 02 January – Newton St Loe Leader: Robert Hargreaves

Well, what a day! It was pouring with rain, an amazing eleven walkers in full wet gear, and seventeen Hawfinches seen, a 21st century record for Avon. Starting by the church we soon found a Redwing, but little else. The gate at the bottom of the lakes was deep in mud so out in the wind along the open road to the University. A flock of 50 Redwings were put up by a dog walker ahead of us, along with many Black-headed and Common Gulls. We took shelter around the University buildings, before setting out towards the Keep. A Cormorant could be seen below on the lake with some Teal, Moorhen and a Grey Heron, while a Song Thrush scuttled into the undergrowth. Some finches flew over us, rather large and heavy in flight. Our boys, we guessed excitedly. Getting the binoculars on them showed we had seven Hawfinches, the largest group so far reported in Avon this winter. They quickly disappeared across the lake, followed by an eighth. A Mistle Thrush stayed behind looking down on us, while some Goldfinches twittered. Eagerly we followed the Hawfinches round the lake, but they kept moving ahead of us, then circled back. Those in front saw a flock of seven or so fly back across the lake, and then four more. Our guest, Glen Maddison, set off back to see if the Hawfinches had returned to the first location. The tail end of our walkers hung back, waiting for Glen to report and were pleased with an obliging Goldcrest showing well. From that position they were treated to good views of at least twelve and possibly 17 Hawfinch. Glen’s group finally caught up with the main party for a late coffee stop in the shelter of the pavilion. Hawfinch excitement was very high! A quick visit to the bottom lake revealed a male Goosander, which flew to top lake, later joined by a female. All of us decided to go in search of the Hawfinch again. More were seen with better views; also some Greenfinches and Mistle Thrushes, but no decision on the number of Hawfinches. Wayne Tucker of NSL birding took over the search while we had to set off back. Later he confirmed the full 17 Hawfinches, seen all in flight in one go. We had presided over a record sighting. On our walk back we had Pied Wagtails, two Ravens, twelve Long-tailed and two Coal Tits, both Woodpeckers, and more Goldcrests, bringing our total to 40 species. It was an excellent morning’s birding all round and thanks to everyone. Anne Crow