After hearing on Winterwatch that this year has seen a mass invasion of a rare winter visitor, the hawfinch, we were determined to at least try to see them. Especially as this year might be our only chance! The nearest sighting to us, according to Twitter account @HawfinchesUK, was at East Carlton Country Park near Corby, about 40 minutes drive. So, last weekend, with the sun peeking out between bouts of violent hail, we headed south-west through rolling countryside.
Spoiler alert: we didn’t see any hawfinches! Our hopes weren’t too high on that count but it was still worth the trip. Turns out East Carlton Park isn’t any old generic lawn cut park, it’s an oasis of wild birds, beautiful ancient trees, tangled patches of undergrowth, ponds and far reaching views.
Once we arrived (and after we huddled under our coats through a vicious lashing of hail), we ventured out into the park seeking solace from the many other noisy visitors. After the hail, the sun came out and began to shine. As we reached the embrace of the park’s many trees, there were constant flashes of movement and pretty song that caught at our eyes and ears. These were the great tits and blue tits that dominated the smaller trees. As we sought out unfamiliar birdsong, a charm of goldfinches flew up before us leaving their perches amongst rows of saplings. A wave of red, sand and gold.
Further in, treecreepers and wrens mimicked each other bouncing up twisting tree trunks. Though the creeper would spiral up the trunk dipping out of view as if it knew we were trying to catch a photo. Treecreeper spotted, I remarked that I hoped to see my other favourite, the nuthatch. Minutes later a small bird flitted amongst branches in another tree, was that the grey-blue peach hints of a nuthatch? Or wishful thinking? Fumbling for binoculars I find the nuthatch on a branch. On a knoll it lives up to its name, knock knock knocking a nut with a sideways flicking of its head. A small sound amongst the sound of nature all around but it entrances me.
Later perching on a bench, intent on spotting something of interest, I devour the dense layering of twigs in a brush of younger trees with my binoculars. This vigil is eventually rewarded when a monochrome blackcap reveals its self to me.
Not to be outdone by the little birds, a red kite swoops low almost touching the uppermost branches of large beech trees. Remnants of dead ginger leaves are still clinging to the ends of upper branches. Suddenly the trees are quiet with this raptor on the prowl. The red kite is an expected sight here with the dynasty of this species restored only a few miles away at Rockingham. But still, that iconic signature printed against the bright blue sky makes my heart leap no matter how many hundreds of them I see.
Blackbirds and their mottled cousins, song thrushes, reigned on the ground. Everywhere we looked they hopped, combing every inch of the ground for food and maybe nesting material. Long starved of the sight of song thrushes I follow them eagerly, storing up the imagery and character of these delightful birds.
As someone who works to protect our most special trees, I’m always paying attention to our silent towering friends. I’m usually on the lookout for a particularly ‘good tree’. At this park, they were nearly all ‘good trees’! So many tall thick boughs reaching up nobly to embrace the sky unburdened by leaves. I would stop every few steps to admire the next tree, whilst losing Alex who kept on hunting for our prey. That’s one of the things I do like about winter (and there aren’t many) is that you can see the fantastical winding and unique shapes of trees and their branches unfolding, unhindered by foliage. It’s also much easier to spot wildlife dancing amongst bare limbs.
Despite the lack of hawfinches, we thoroughly enjoyed our visit to this country park and intend to go again. If you are anywhere in the vicinity of Corby, I recommend you give the park a visit. And you never know, you might spot the elusive hawfinch!
Have you seen any interesting birds or trees lately? I’d love to hear about your discoveries!